This month’s offerings flow from the sublime to the ridiculous and much in between as we approach what is usually accepted as the stupid season.
Pre-COVID times, the big stores would already be decorated with Christmas ornaments, Christmas photographers would be installed in the malls and songs would be the backdrop for every shopping trip. Have things changed this year? Do we make room for introspection and gentle contemplation?
The latest volume The Wear of My Face by poet Lizz Murphy (Spinifex Press, Australia) is a literary manifestation of the photographer’s ability to quietly observe – everything from the banal to the exalted is the material of her poetry. She writes so beautifully that it hurts me. This volume talks about such diverse experiences as women’s work, the children of Syria, the refuge of art and shopping trip land.
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The works are like an ongoing conversation, a flow of consciousness uniting 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 at the bedside, soaking up the delicacy of Lizz Murphy’s words, phrases and images.
And I promised, the ridiculous one – Jacinta Froud’s Jingle Belly (Larrikin House Australia), a happy-to-be-stupid 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 an annoying but lovely corgi that comes out to all sorts of pranks including eating the angel from the tree on Christmas Eve. The result is predictable and will please children indefinitely. They like to be removed.
There is a lot of seriousness and it is refreshing to see a book that boldly nails its colors to the mast of light-hearted, uncomplicated fun. Larrikin House in particular supports such works, advocating the strange 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 World War II with the second in his Hitler trilogy, Hitler’s Assassins (Big Sky Publishing, Australia). Steve’s interest in the subject comes from a personal connection with Polish friends and a revelatory visit to Auschwitz.
Matthews writes a fictionalized story, exploring both the macro and microphone. That story centers on Hitler’s cook, portrayed here as Clara Koch. It reveals many interesting facts about Hitler’s health and medical regime, his diet and personal habits. The most important campaigns and events of the war form the frame of the book with the fiction woven in the reality.
The severe hardships of Clara’s life are central to the human story and present a metaphor for the darkness of the times, her constant juggling in the hope of protecting her daughter, the violent nature of those who hold power over her and the obvious disrespect for human life shown by the Nazi regime.
Hitler’s inner circle comes under scrutiny – Goebbels, Goering, Himmler, Bormann and the like. The discovery of these stories has a way to run and Steve Matthews will be part of this with the next third in the series, Hitler’s Resurrection.
Closer to home, Maura Pierlot chronicled a theater project presented at The Street Canberra in 2019 as part of Mental Health Month. Her book Fragments (Big Ideas Press, Australia) is a rewritten manuscript of this theatrical work as well as a study guide for teachers and theater therapists, a “like” document that users can adapt or elevate as a whole into their own circumstances or educational framework.
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 teenagers and how theatrical work is in constant flux, always responding to the changing times and needs of audience and players.
This is important work. It is valuable for parents of teenagers, for teachers and all of us who care about a good society.
Barbie Robinson is a co-founder and content creator of Living Arts Canberra, a non-profit media supporting arts and community in the Canberra region and books worldwide through its website, podcast interviews and 24/7 internet radio station.