Jun 24, 2009
Voiceworks is an Australian journal publishing the work of writers under 25. Budget is the first issue under the editorial of Bel Monypenny does steer a less-showy ship, still understandably finding its path. The issue suits the theme design-wise – being lean, and mean (with a teeny-tiny font that didn’t make my eyes too happy), but content-wise the issue is still wealthy. The fiction, nonfiction and art are of the usual high quality, and the majority of poems.
The highlights of Budget, whose theme came back to both an economy of words and making the most of flourishing art in tough times, for me included the following:
The columns; from Greg Foyster on data faults on both sides of the climate change debacle, to Kate O’Halloran on how little has changed in representation of public sexualities, and Anusha Kenny’s look at the benefits and drawbacks of both confined and unrestrained art; provided exceptional interest and were well-written and structured. I see this column space as not just a great breeding ground for knowledge in broad areas, but as a stepping stone for the writers, to careers in analysis and criticism within these fields.
The fiction is rich and varied. Most pieces indeed stick to an elegance and simplicity – but not necessarily always an economy of words. They are happily not as abrupt as pieces have been under previous editorship. John Morrissey’s ‘The Ambassadors’ is a great little dystopic piece, where a vivid future world is created in a short space. There is a tad too much flourish where some sparseness may have suited, but Morrissey is a writer to watch. Jessica Clements’ ‘Epidemic’ is original and topical. It’s told from a child’s exaggerated point-of-view on the ‘epidemic’ which is obesity. It is disturbing, sad and affecting. Anna Snoekstra’s ‘Bonfire’ features sharp sentences, fantastic writing, and shows the author posseses a huge potential for something larger. I felt I was just getting to know the characters and would have gone on to learn more. Laura Vitis’ ‘Picasso Boy’ is about the lasting presence of a favourite and admired eldest son. The story has an intriguing, subtle eroticism. ‘Three Small Stories About the Large Professor’ by Nick Modrzewski is a cool absurd piece – like Kafka or Waiting for Godot with hotel rooms and poker machines. The humour, wordplay and brand-play made it a favourite for me. ‘Fog’ by Elspeth Muir was frightening and memorable – somehow fantastical though all the elements are realism, sad and violent though somehow light. Gorgeous characterisation and original language sustained throughout (eg. ‘black-yolk breath’, ‘blister-popped’). Memorable, mature, and my favourite piece in the issue. Though the quality was generally high, some stories bordered on crowded and/or were lacking depth, not many, though, but these did undermine the ‘budget’ thematic.
The highlight of the nonfiction, for me, was Christopher Jacobin’s ‘Polspeak: Telling the Strewth’, about the lack of great oration, wit and memorable, inspiring language and phrases in recent leadership. It’s a very well-written piece on a topic I hadn’t thought much about, but realised I should have.
Of the poetry, the most accomplished was San Wei Yeoh’s short piece ‘The Weight of It’ which effortlessly conjured up a vision and a kind of historical/folktale ‘weight’ behind its economy of lines. Joseph Oliver’s ‘We Taught the Night’ is a poignant piece; Amy May Nunn’s ‘The Writer’s Wife’ is tactile and conjures a smile in its word-choice; Alexandra Collins’ ‘My Moirai and My Alex Impasse’ inspires a feeling of loss and demands re-reading; Prithvi Varatharajan’s ‘Window Frame’ flows and captures space with great assonance and a singular, surprising image; and Isabelle Mead’s ‘Charlotte’ has people interchangeable for objects interchangeable for ideas, and has a great ‘mossy’ atmosphere due to its rendering of history and mood. Besides these, the poetry is readable but quite ordinary – some are obvious, others are pointlessly odd.
The illustrations are complementary to the work (some stand alone as artworks, most illustrate writing pieces, which is new for the journal). Overall, the issue has some highly enjoyable pieces – it’s worth buying for the short stories alone. There are so many fantastic young writers in this country, and they’re engaging with ideas that aren’t seen so much in the ‘older’ journals or collections. The pieces are accessible too, not just to other people under 25, but to anyone, fiction and nonfiction included (and some of the poetry). I did get a bit annoyed when stuck with an ordinary poem or piece, but there is nothing bad, or stinky in here. It would be great to see a little more thematic consistency next time, and even a slimmer volume with more space for the really outstanding pieces.
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