Monthly Archives: December 2015

The Golden Age Joan London Review by Julie Maclean

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Speak to anyone of school age in the fifties and they may recall hearing or chanting cruel names and running a mile from the callipers of polio survivors. London’s latest novel is a poignant and important story set in a convalescent home for victims of the disease after WWII when Australia was thronging with new arrivals and refugees from Europe.

This book is strong on place but especially on people; their inner lives and anxieties around separation and containment. London knows people, their motivations and disappointments and she knows of their resilience and ability to adapt. ‘The Golden Age’ is written in elegant and confident prose with the added bonus, to me, of it being about an aspiring poet, Frank.

‘Meyer knew Frank loved him intensely. As Ida did. As had his parents and his brothers and his one poor little sister, Roszi, and his friends, nearly all of whom, had died in the war. Wherever he went he carried their love around with him, their mysterious, unasked-for gift, like a bundle on a stick over his shoulder.

He sometimes thought he only loved properly in retrospect.

He’s often wondered whether he has a cooler temperament than others, and that was why he had survived.’

Ida and Meyer Gold are Hungarian Jews fleeing Hitler’s gas chambers, seeking a new beginning in the strange, empty city that is Perth in the fifties. They have brought their precious only son Frank with them. Themes of attachment and containment rub up against those of dislocation and freedom  as in life when it is so difficult to know how much freedom is too much, how tightly should we hold and be held. These delicious notions of Melanie Klein and Winnicott infuse the story.

Whilst there is melancholy and a sense of loss when Sullivan the real poet and inspiration, loses his fragile grasp on life and where relationships and marriages are put to the test, London never sinks to the maudlin or sentimental.

In Perth, Ida, the mother has lost her core strength and has trouble connecting at any level. Her future as a concert pianist is never to be realised, and Meyer as a romantic and something of a leader is relegated to driving a truck. The only glimmer of hope is in their only child, thirteen year-old Frank in this dust bowl of a place where nobody walks after dinner, nobody sits and drinks on the verandah and where they find themselves in a dead city in need of character, habitation and love.

And then Frank is stricken with the polio virus and a lengthy stint at the convalescent home called, ‘The Golden Age’, a name typical of that era of optimism and hope over death and deprivation. The action is centred around the home which is ironically illuminated by factory lights at night, showing the city in its manufacturing heyday.

London’s style is tender and objective and does not shout for attention, but is surprising in the terrain that it covers, from rape in war to European cake-making and yet the narrative is uncluttered. There is no moral judgement, no hint of the salacious when we read of Meyer’s peccadilloes, his physical attraction to Penny and her casual encounters with other men. There is pathos in the description of Frank and Elsa trying to connect in a dimension beyond the platonic and horror when the sunny, loving atmosphere of the home, where patients are treated with kindness and compassion, is suddenly compromised and the magical spell broken.

The story is full of love in all manifestations; love of country, fellow creatures, familial love and romantic love. And while the power of the first love is a key element and could have taken over the main plot, London uses restraint in maintaining focus on sub plots and vignettes that show on the one hand our need to be free, on the other, our need for containment.

London shows the power of the survival instinct and the strength of the human spirit, the nuances that make us human both disappointingly and gloriously real. Meyer and his predilection for romance outside the marriage can be forgiven so easily.The cake that appears at Ida’s concert recital is as good as any in Vienna. The Golds and post- colonial Australia were becoming. They were forging a new way to be.

The sense of place is strong and significant but is not overwritten. We are transported to war ravaged Budapest then to the Australian desert, inhospitable and remote. Yet time allows adjustment to the most challenging situations. Humans adapt like animals to new surroundings. Nowhere is this more strikingly displayed than in the scene when the black stallion gallops out of the desert with his thirsty mares demanding a drink, and being turned away. But people are London’s primary focus.

This novel made me cry on a few occasions because London makes the characters and situations so universal and a reminder of how much we struggle for life, meaning and belonging, and of how randomly tragedy and horror can strike at the heart of a country and its people.

The Golden Age deserves the accolades. It provides an important glimpse into our relatively unexplored social history. Its subtleties demand reflection. Its unadorned, gentle rhythm and style can lull the reader into thinking that this is a simple tale. Don’t be fooled. The History syllabus would be richer for texts like this to encourage research, debate and tolerance. This is a story for our times without a skerrick of the didactic. It is a thoroughly human, glowing and golden story. I loved it.

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Lizz Murphy

lizz

I remember when my first Press Press chapbooks arrived and thinking-how could so much poetry be squeezed into such a tiny space? Yet Chris Mansell manages this with flair and imagination and I can see how she must find Lizz Murphy’s poems so right for her special format-they are minuscule snippets of wit, social comment and observation. Lizz has a new title, Shebird coming out with the same small press in 2016.

Lizz’s Six Hundred Dollars appealed to me not only because of its spooky cover but because of her range of subjects from dingoes to girls sold for the sex trade. Lizz strikes me as someone with compassion and sympathy; concerned with the marginalised and also the strangeness of the Australian landscape. She is very energetic in the poetry world and whilst I’ve never met her in person, I have come to know something about her and her dedication to the life of the poem and to the encouragement of poets, once again through the wonders of social media. My Christmas poet is Lizz Murphy. Happy holiday!

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THE SKY BLED FOR ME

Driving home the sky bleeds for me A blue
scrape through dusk  gun metal clouds forming
into long rolls  Between each layer a lit fuse a
blood red score  electric  in my lived body

In the blue of her bathroom a girl with a blade
edge against the inside of her forearm where
the skin is finest Her held breath the raspberry
release  electric  through her mute body

— first published Shot Glass  Journal (US) 2014

 

Makeshift shelter

No latrines for girls
No protection for girls
Makeshift night

— first published The Wonder Book of Poetry 2014

 

DANGEROUS WOMEN

She lays on hands  prays by her child  her only child  bears
forth an unforeseen healing Afterwards  the cure spurned
feared   the mother spurned feared This dangerous woman
abandoned  by her family  stands on a front doorstep  alone

— first published Verity La 2014

 

CHOCOLATE FIX

I am a slave to the cocoa bean
So too the children who harvest it

 

 — first published Right Now: Human Rights in Australia 2014

The above poems are from the forthcoming collection Shebirds (PressPress)

 

A SMALL POEM ABOUT WATER

Micro
Wave

— from the collection Portraits: 54 poems (PressPress 2013)

 

And a longer poem I sneaked in from your blogspot, Lizz, written for Bimblebox, a touring exhibition, 153 Birds curated by Jill Sampson as part of the Bimblebox Art Project documenting the Bimblebox Nature Refuge under threat from coal mining http//:bimbleboxartproject.com

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BROWN GOSHAWK
Accipiter fasciatus

I am beguiled by the yellow
of your eye  the bright pierce of it
You skirring overhead
wrists pushed forward
Me looking up
into the blue squint
You more interested in luckless burrowings
at my feet  than in my hollowing thoughts
In the mottled unwelcome sparrow or the
black and white flash of the strenuous magpie
Your frowning steel grey smudges into rufous
the colour of   turned earth   or dried blood
Menace clips at my elbows
Fear loops deep in my belly
Its last
wretched beak clap
Your strike
that thud
My shudder
I am plucked half bare

 

BIO
Lizz Murphy has published twelve books. Her seven poetry titles include Portraits: 54 Poems and Six Hundred Dollars (PressPress), Walk the Wildly (Picaro Press), Stop Your Cryin (Island Press) and Two Lips Went Shopping (Spinifex Press print and e-book). Shebird will be published by PressPress. Lizz is a member of Australian Poetry Ltd, ACT Writers Centre and Binalong Arts Group Inc.

Lizz Murphy: A Poet’s Slant
Blog lizzmurphypoet.blogspot.com
Web http://sites.google.com/site/lizzmurphypoet

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NEXT GIGS

  • POETRY WORKSHOPS Watch for news of Canberra and Yass Valley workshops by popular facilitator Lizz Murphy in 2016.
  • A BRUSH WITH POETRY

WILL RETURN MARCH 2016-A riot of top quality new and published poets and performers from regional NSW and Canberra at the Black Swan Gallery. Shared mike – anything goes. MC/coordinators: Lizz Murphy and Robyn Sykes; mine host: Yvette Gilroy. A Binalong Arts Group (BAG) event. Appropriate donation welcomed.