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Jul 13, 2008

Harvest #1 and Voiceworks #73: Carnivale - Journal Review

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A loud established journal and a studious newbie are both aesthetically pleasing and intellectually stimulating. Voiceworks #73 is themed Carnivale and even more-so than previous issues revels in quality quirk as well as showcasing the colourful talents and opinions of Australian youth.
In contrast to the oft blunt-ended pieces in Voiceworks, the first issue of Harvest celebrates length and fulfilling closures. Voiceworks is indeed carnivalesque – alive, daring, and with disturbing undertones reflecting a most non-apathetic youth. Harvest is a quieter affair, taking its time to indulge in interesting voices of fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

Voiceworks #73 Carnivale presents geekery and freakery. Suggestions of the Renaissance being inspired by Middle Age Carnival Celebrations (as explored by Mikhail Bakhtin) are introduced in Ryan Paine’s 2nd last editorial, and the anonymously authored edcommitorial relates notions of the carnival to the contemporary structures of the internet.

The sense of confusion and confrontation of a carnivalesque atmosphere is evident in the short story selections – mostly sparse efforts bordering on surrealism. There are always questions lingering at the edges of consciousness after a Voiceworks fiction experience. Why does the nameless protagonist visit the quiet waterhole where a snake curls on her stomach (Shift – Samira Lloyd)? Why is the boy compelled to buy a gift for his teacher, and why is she determined in her aloneness (Two for a Gift – Stella Rosa McDonald)?

Some stories are dream-like such as Eleven Rooms (Ramyana Reeves), and The Teal Girl by Phillip English. A nightmarish and again undefined story The End of It, by Chris Somerville, explores alienating confusion due to overwhelming cycles of loss, forgetting and replacement.
Prominent themes of consumerist comforts and integrations with technology are explored in The Turtle Nets, by Liam Pieper (the featured writer); a story of a well-intentioned and ultimately uncomfortable stay in India; and in The Addling Machine, by Andrew Kertesz, where an old man is comforted by and accepting of his reliance on machines.
Pop culture references get a look-in in the very humorous The Third Day by Bob (just Bob), where Bill Murray pops up as God right when the narrator is attempting to quit smoking.
My favourite fiction piece is a spec piece by Kane Gough called Buying Kewen Harolds. Einard Wulkowicz is at the farewell party of a man whose life he has ‘bought’. In this near-future scene, Wulkowicz, the ‘identity nomad’ searches for the perfect life and people who have proudly built one throw it all away for a new beginning. The ultimate choice, the ultimate consumer freedom. It is well written, interesting, and has a more satisfying ending than much of the work in this issue.

Poetry highlights include the warm sigh-inducing Idle Impatience (Janette Chen); the blackly visceral Consummate Love (Ainslee Meredith), which has the kind of word combinations that slip deliciously around on the tongue such as ‘scud mapless’, ‘bluely from a doctor’s wall’, and ‘her lips, Marlowe-black’; and others that are intimate with smells, sounds and physical spatialities (eg. the anticipation of being beneath the water in The Swell – Stella Rosa McDonald).

Nonfiction highlights include the fantastic new environmental column where Greg Foyster presents the contradictions of ‘green’ consumerism, and the food column where Gemma Considine gives an informative look on how far ingredients travel and why to grow and buy local. We meet a protestor and his Mental Health Assistant Dog who have been kicked off public transport in Mickie Skelton’s political column. He explores notions of inclusivity/exclusivity and writes in an engaging personalised style.

The art and illustrations suit the theme, going from whimsical to subversive, with the usual portrayal of social misfits – sometimes cutesy, goth-inspired, often technologically-bound, darkly imaginative and expressive with barely a trace of realism.

Harvest’s editorial sets out its aims to be a journal both attractive and intelligent, and of showcasing both fresh and established writers. It is indeed aesthetically pleasing, printed in soft tones on recycled paper, generous in wordspace.

Grabbing my attention first was an article by Timoth de Atholia and Dr David Rathbone entitled Art for Artless Times. The authors present to us Nietzschean philosophy in relation to environmental issues in our ‘time of decadence’. The article is a good introduction to Nietzsche in itself, describing clearly the concepts of Ubermensch, the Last Man and the Eternal Return, among others, and relating them to contemporary society and prominent issues. It is highly readable and was thoroughly enjoyed.

The fiction of Harvest has a haunting quality. One story has a surrealist bent while another is hard realism. In Isobel (Gauri Yardi), the artistic narrator deals with her lover turning into a tree. The lack of explanation alongside the vividity and imagination of the situation is well handled, and there is poignancy to the story. The narrator has to deal with change, face loss, and accept the inevitability of nature taking over.

Africa Was Children Crying (Ryan O’Neill) is a fantastic piece of fiction. The voice of Gilchrest on his African ‘holiday’ is very strong. His observations are all subtly tainted by his view of the Africans as others, and a belief in his own superiority. This causes a detrimental blindness which is at the heart of the story. The story is full of sharp sentences that sum up a visual aspect, a mood, and a character trait all in one go. It is beautifully crafted and quite seamless. I admittedly guessed the ending but the foreshadowing threw an ominous tone on the second half of the story which was very apt for the events that occur.

Two biographical nonfiction highlights are Jack Cassidy’s laugh-out-loud recollection of Christmas back home with his family in Canada (The Twelve Days of Christmas), and Meg Mundell’s Tumbleweed. Meg is writing a book on trucking culture, and this extract is a compelling snapshot of a depressingly lonely old truck driver and Meg’s careful handling of a difficult situation. I really look forward to reading her book. An article on Norman Mailer (Norman Mailer: Shadows of Greatness or Fading Spark? Anthony Levin) is very informative, although I did find it a tad dry and overlong in comparison to the other pieces. David Mayes column I could easily relate to (on inspiration and writing) but it wasn’t anything new.

Nick Powell’s poems; slow and dreamy memories; are worthily introduced for the poetry feature. Other poetry by Iain Britton and Andy Jackson is also quite slow and breathy, focused, and features some striking imagery.

The Voiceworks and Harvest experiences have their own character. Both are contained, even the carnivalesque chaos of Voiceworks. I must point out that despite the writers in Voiceworks being under 25, the readership should not be limited. In fact, countless pieces from Voiceworks appeared in last year’s Best Australian Stories, edited by Robert Drewe. It just so happens that the perspectives and imaginations of youth captured on the pages are fresh, timely, accurate and of a very high quality (if a bit blunt-ended at times). The columns are also worthwhile reading for audiences of any age. Harvest should find a wide audience for the quality writing within its pages – the biographical aspect would be particularly appealing to many audiences.

I look forward to Ryan Paine’s last issue of Voiceworks and the second Harvest in the months to come.
Get thee Voiceworks.
Get thee Harvest.
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