This month’s offerings skitter from the sublime to the ridiculous and much in between, as we near what is usually accepted as the silly season.
Pre-COVID times, the big stores would already be emblazoned with Christmas decorations, Santa photographers would be set up in the malls and carols would be the backdrop to every shopping trip. Have things changed this year? Are we making a space for introspection and gentle contemplation?
Poet Lizz Murphy’s latest volume The Wear of My Face (Spinifex Press, Australia) is a literary manifestation of the photographer’s capacity to quietly observe – everything from the banal to the exalted is the stuff of her poetry. She writes so beautifully it makes me ache. This volume speaks of such diverse experiences as women’s work, the children of Syria, the refuge of art and shopping trip aggro.
The works are like an ongoing conversation, a stream of consciousness assemblage of thoughts, actions, reactions, observations of the natural and the unnatural. We hear in the words her Irish cadence, the rhythm of speech and we long to hear her read to us.
Poetry is important, less read and less published than it should be in Australia. This is one for us to read and reread, to keep by the bedside, soaking up the deliciousness of Lizz Murphy’s words, phrases and images.
And I promised, the ridiculous – Jacinta Froud’s Jingle Belly (Larrikin House Australia), a happy-to-be-silly piece of Christmas reading for kids and their adults, is one such. Told in rhyme, comically and brightly illustrated by Gabriella Petruso, it is the story of a pesky but lovable corgi who gets up to all kinds of mischief including eating the angel from the tree on Christmas Eve. The result is predictable and will please children no end. They do so like to be yukked out.
There’s a lot of seriousness about and it’s refreshing to see a book which boldly nails its colours to the mast of light-hearted, uncomplicated fun. Larrikin House especially espouses such works, championing the quirky and humorous along with new writers.
Speaking of seriousness, regional writer Steve Matthews continues his exploration of lesser-known aspects of the Nazi regime and the Second World War with the second in his Hitler trilogy, Hitler’s Assassins (Big Sky Publishing, Australia). Steve’s interest in the topic comes from a personal connection with Polish friends and a revelatory visit to Auschwitz.
Matthews writes fictionalised history, researching both the macro and micro. This story centres on Hitler’s cook, portrayed here as Klara Koch. It reveals many interesting facts about Hitler’s health and medical regimen, his diet and personal habits. The major campaigns and events of the war form the book’s framework with the fiction woven into the reality.
The harsh difficulties of Klara’s life are central to the human story and present a metaphor for the darkness of the times, her constant juggling act in the hope of protecting her daughter, the abusive nature of those who hold power over her and the blatant disregard for human life shown by the Nazi regime.
Hitler’s inner circle come under scrutiny – Goebbels, Goering, Himmler, Bormann and the like. The uncovering of these histories has a way to run and Steve Matthews will be part of this with the upcoming third in the series, Hitler’s Resurrection.
Closer to home, Maura Pierlot has chronicled a theatre project presented at The Street Canberra in 2019 as part of Mental Health Month. Her book Fragments (Big Ideas Press, Australia) is a reworked script of that theatre work as well as a study guide for teachers and theatre practitioners, a ‘how to’ document which users can adapt or lift as a whole into their own circumstances or educational setting.
Fragments is a collection of eight monologues by young people, each delving into an area of concern in the mental health sphere: depression, alienation, anxiety, sexual identity and the like. The script is based on conversations with adolescents and as a theatre work is in constant flux, always responding to the changing times and needs of audience and players.
This is important work. It’s valuable for parents of adolescents, for teachers and all of us who care about a well society.
Barbie Robinson is co-founder and a content creator for Living Arts Canberra, a not-for-profit media outfit supporting arts and community in the Canberra region and books worldwide through its website, podcast interviews and a 24/7 internet radio station.