Australia Poetry’s November 2012 Edition of Sotto reviews Going Down Swinging’s No. 33.

I’m counting up the number of poems in the latest edition of Going Down Swinging. Editor Geoff Lemon writes that ever since Issue 32 was put to bed, he nicknamed this issue, Issue 33, ‘The Jesus issue’. Going Down Swinging (GDS) is not usually a journal that asks its writers to think in themes. Lemon says he gave a cautious prompt while perhaps thinking ‘to hell with the consequences’. He also writes in his editorial that Jesus achieved some miraculous moments in his 33 years of living and so has GDS—and he’s right. With the unfortunate news that Wet Ink is closing down due to lack of funding, and the loss of other literary magazines around the country such as Famous Reporter, which just put its final volume out, it is beginning to look like the survival of GDS is something of a miracle.

This issue does have a certain biblical tactility with its wafer-thin pages. Cate Kennedy and Simon MacEwan were awarded the 2012 collaborative commission that one will find in the centre of the book—a sixteen-page illustrated story titled ‘Atlas Dharma’ that uses the colourful palette of planets and stars of the 1961 Reader’s Digest Great World Atlas as both inspiration, and a visual and literary theme that continues throughout the volume. Suddenly I have a hunch; perhaps GDS 33 contains secret coded religious messages? It soon becomes clear that the team have both a sense of symmetry and a sense of humour; including the poems on the audio CD, Issue 33 comprises a total of thirty-three poems.

In print, the collection includes Ray Liversidge’s poem about Oscar Wilde, ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’, in which Liversidge demonstrates the depth of story, history and sentiment that a good poet can pack in to nine well-measured lines. So too in Nancy Reddy’s ‘Lent’, where sex and religion meet awkwardly:

I learned in church: to be bodied
was to be sinful. I gave up milk

gave up spoons, shaved the thumbnail
down to meet its fleshy bed

There is a touch of black humour in E. Kristin Anderson’s poem, ‘A Guide for the Practical Abductee’, in which the poet advises:

Keep your stories. Or else write them
as fictions. Publishing is cruel
but your kin are crueller

Australian Poetry’s new Publishing Assistant, Ainslee Meredith, writes about the French-Canadian founder and lay nurse in ‘Jeanne-Mance’, and the love, sex, death continuum in ‘After the Funeral’. Other poets such as Alison Girvan, in ‘On the Edge of Faith’, and Daniel East, choose longer forms. For example, East echoes the character-rich style of the American Beats and transposes them into everyday Australia in his poem, ‘I used to be a Young Poet’: “a bottlebrown Coopers Red tilted / but not yet spilt on my lips.”

There are a number of poems in which one hears the influence of performance, hip-hop, and poetry slams; poet and actor Felix Nobis kicks off the collection with ‘Storm’ before relocating to Track 6 on the CD with ‘Keine Zeitung Am Tisch’, where his deep, melodious voice is instantly familiar. The CD, of course, is a totally different kettle of fishes—thrumming double bass, emotive guitar melodies and vocals, noisy crowds and enthusiastic applause transport the listener to the bars and cafés of a city’s poetry scene. Dark, funny, and sometimes tragic, from Sean M. Whelan and the Mime Set’s smoky ‘Wake Me Up With a Kiss’ to Crazy Elf’s Pythonesque ‘Gethsemane’, and Emilie Zoey Baker’s hilarious ‘Fuck You, Glee’, this CD collection has, just like world religion, something for everyone.

John Kinsella, on receiving the recent Victorian Premier’s Prize for Poetry, said that “Melbourne poetry can be both parochial and internationalist at once”. Although himself a poet of the West Australian wheatbelt and the Cambridge fens, Kinsella says he enjoys the city’s “urbanity and poetic energy”. There is something of this to be found in Going Down Swinging, and that energy and flavour complements the edition as a whole. But amongst the elements of air (spirit) and sky (space), earth and nature are strangely missing from the selection of poems. More likely to hop into bed with the poetry of Tredinnick than Tranter, perhaps this is a reflection of my own ’gumnut-gazing’ poetics.  Capturing a certain sixties nostalgia with its muted browns and retro typeface, the journal looks great. Like that rare find at the op shop, GDS 33 looks old, feels like new and still works perfectly.

GDS 33 is also full of great prose (one of my favourites being Eric Yoshiaki Dando’s ‘The Novel Teacher’) and beautiful and interesting illustrations. Congratulations to everyone at Going Down Swinging and to its founding fathers, Kevin Brophy and Myron Lysenko, for reaching this auspicious milestone—may you be reborn in Issue 34, which, we can be assured, is definitely coming. (Also check out Going Down Swinging online—as far as cyberspace goes, their website truly is divine.)


By Miranda Aitken, Sotto Nov 2012