Going Down Swinging No. 35
Edited by Geoff Lemon, Zoe Norton Lodge, Rhys Tate, Katie Pase and Simon Cox
Going Down Swinging has been publishing beautifully designed literary anthologies since 1980—for almost as long as I’ve been alive. Each issue takes on its own particular form. GDS No. 34 was digital-only, but this most recent offering comes as a black gatefold journal with an accompanying digital album download. Darren Song’s artwork appears throughout, a delightful embroidery-on-paper that uses vintage editions of Going Down Swinging as its canvas. GDS No. 35 offers a unique, beguiling, funny, but ultimately quite dark selection of Australian fiction, essays and poetry.
Neither the submission guidelines nor the editorial of this issue highlight any particular theme, yet an elemental darkness seems to pervade the content, with recurring motifs often linking sequential works. Perhaps I’m finding patterns where there are none, as humans so often do: in her essay on otherkin and vampirism, Kia Groom refers to “the numerous questionable truths people use to give life meaning” and invokes Michael Shermer’s concept of patternicity, in which the human mind forms “links between individual data to create a series even when no connection exists”. And yet, in reviewing an anthology, one must at least seek patterns, if not meaning, in the editors’ selections.
The journal opens with ‘Library of Congress’ by Bridget Lutherborrow, a story from her forthcoming full-length collection, also to be published by Going Down Swinging. The story’s first person protagonist and her horse Eduard are sitting in a seventh-storey apartment, drinking whisky and waiting for a storm. Absurd, yes, but beautifully written. Eduard, with his “graceless equine teeth poking out like broken piano keys”, looks up at the sky, which “put[s] her hand to his snout” as the storm finally breaks. I look forward to reading Bridget’s collection when it is released in 2014.
Chloe Wilson, in her poem ‘Lyudmila Pavlichenko, From The Orchard’, writes about sharpshooting and summons some marvellous dark imagery: “All sorts of torsos / were strung up as targets … each animal a black pond / into which a rock / had been dropped”. The tone needs lightening after this and Patrick Lenton delivers with sharply comedic prose in his story ‘Swimming & Other Unnatural Things’. Beneath the humour, however, lies a treatise on the meaninglessness and failure that defines much of our adult lives.
In ‘Highway’, Lauren Aimee Curtis writes of a pregnant woman who “wants to feel weightless again”, which evokes—intentionally or otherwise—one of the saddest songs I know: ‘Weightless Again’ by The Handsome Family, who sing “this is why people O.D. on pills and jump from the golden gate bridge: anything to feel weightless again”.
Weather, as in so much writing, is a motif in many of these stories. Perhaps it’s cliché, just like the coloured skies which appear repeatedly throughout the fiction. In ‘Interstate 15’, Amaryllis Gacioppo describes the mountains “tangerine and blue as the sun settles”, and a sky that becomes “Clear. Pale.” as the characters drive through the desert. As a reader, I don’t tire of these images when used effectively, and it’s the strength of the writing that moves us beyond the territory of cliché.
Sydney comedian Nick Sun has contributed an amusing series of pieces called ‘The First Time I…’ (…Watched A Man Having A Heart Attack / …Went To A Funeral On Acid / …Found Out Someone I Didn’t Know Had Died On Facebook, etc.), but again the themes run to the darker side. ‘The Ghost of Electricity’ by Luke Johnson is an apocalyptic story set in a world where the government has abandoned electricity, beginning with a series of politically effective outages and gradually becoming a complete shutdown. Lightning strikes are a boon for some households, with the lucky few able to harness the power. There is light and a vague sense of hope to be found in this story and it’s followed by a striking (yet too short) essay about silk: ‘Fibroid’ by Upulie Divisekera. In his poem ‘Phenomenology Of Bananas’, Sean Goedecke writes of the “fibrous knots of protein / crystallising into sugar”, and I’m left wondering if the words “fibroid” and “fibrous” were sufficient to grant these pieces a slot side-by-side.
A childhood nightmare returns with Stuart Barnes’ poem ‘Dissociation’. The poem is introduced with the fact that “Australia’s Grim Reaper commercial first screened on April 5, 1987”. I remember it well, although I didn’t understand its meaning at the time. All I knew was the fear that shrouded me whenever I saw it, particularly on the big screen, and the bad dreams that followed. Bowling imagery carries the poem: a ten-pin “strikes the waxen pine”, but we are soon faced with the all-too-real horror of “raised lesions” and powerfully horrific “cheeks milked of fat”. For Stuart Barnes, the scene is “too close to the bone”, and I must concur. This grisly poem leads onto ‘The Half-Life Of Tears’ by Rafael S.W., an essay about the author’s grandmother, her radioactive thyroid treament and the pain of ageing.
There really is very little joy to be found here; a trio of whale-themed writing (a story, a poem and an essay) provide no relief, unless you can find it in a whaling ship’s “blood-letting drain”. This final third of the journal is probably its weakest point, and I began to find hope in the thought of being nearly finished. Nevertheless, there is still some excellent writing here, with a particular nod to Kavita Bedford’s ‘The Most Northern Southern City’ and Oliver Mol’s ‘When It Was Cold But Not Too Cold’.
The best work in this journal finds truth in unreality and it’s refreshing to read such pieces when many Australian literary journals are loathe to stray from hard realism, particularly in their fiction. The tone of the audio content (included with the journal and available for streaming or download on the GDS website) is much lighter than the text and serves as a nice accompaniment, featuring the side-by-side treat of Adam Gibson’s ‘Angie Hart’ and Angie Hart’s ‘An Apology To Melbourne’.
Within the dark black covers of GDS No. 35, the thin newsprint pages alternate between black type on white paper for prose and inky black pages with white ‘print’ for poetry. After each reading session, my fingertips were lightly smudged with black stains, but the contents of these pages will stick in my mind long after my fingers have been washed clean. And that’s what reading is all about.