Australian Love Stories

Dave Graney on Inkerman Blunt’s Australian Love Stories.

Australian Love Stories, edited by Cate Kennedy (Inkerman & Blunt), 2014 In 2013 I was at the Byron Bay Writers Festival, hanging around with Justin Heazlewood (aka the Bedroom Philosopher), both of us feeling like phoney-ass interlopers on the scene. We had both landed there on different solo flights from the world of entertainment and performance. We were to appear on some panels and do some singing and guitar picking as well. He was still working on his Funemployed book on life as an artist in Australia and I was still doing readings from my 2011 memoir 1001 Australian Nights. We were hungering for a glimpse of a world of serious writers. We wanted to hear bookish, mousey, shy and unfiltered, unmediated literary types read from their work. We wanted barely audible voices, trembling hands and elusive, sickly, pervy types dressed in whatever they’d put in the wardrobe of their cave when they entered it to write back in 1972. We wanted to see them sweating in old, elbow-patched tweeds in one of the bright, white tents there on the lawn. Like I said, we had been following different flight paths and had landed here on this literary playing field – by kind of accident – perhaps it was a destination? Or was it more of a waiting lounge for an as yet unannounced connecting flight? We kept seeing writers having to do their version of a new soft shoe, playing it for yucks or opening up some vein of personal tragedy to drag people in to the tents. “Flicking the switch to vaudeville,” as former PM Paul Keating once referred to the baby kissing stunt mode of serious electioneering. We wandered, lonely, yeah, as bummed-out farts over that lovely green field by the sea. Then, after I lost touch with BP when he took his board out to the green room in the left breaking swell that fateful Big Wednesday, I went back to my dry grass lone wolf mode and tried the festival for another scout around.  I somehow found a tent where the new publishers Inkerman & Blunt were presenting their Australia Love Poems anthology. I sat and listened to the delightful publisher speak, followed by the very polished editor and then a parade of poets who were all included in the book. Each delivered their poems in their own, truly distinct voices and I was so delighted to share their artistry and differing sensibilities. A slam kind of poet with all the crude, singsong cadences of that scene. A quiet, lyrical middle-aged man in a rarely sighted (for it was Byron Bay) suit, a Robinson Crusoe-type figure who looked like he’d fallen out of a nearby tree and a delightful local English woman who charmed us all with her dry manners and cool wit. “A town like Byron”-style. Each dragged us into a world. I bought a book and got poets, who were able to be there, to sign their piece. So that was the long and roundabout way that I approached this new collection of short stories along the theme of love from the same publisher with a lot of goodwill. They put out great stuff! Of course, it’s not my usual thing. Surely the theme [love] is too tight to allow much else of life in? It would be just boring words about those ecstatic highs that power 99.90 percent of every corny pop song ever recorded! The short story form is also one that makes a collection difficult to get lost in. All the different tempos and voices. The writer has to establish the tone in a sentence. Luckily, as with the Love Poems anthology, the editing is adroit. These are stories of all kinds of love. Love and sex. Same sex and different. Love of pets. Love in sickness and in health. Mythological flashes of love. Mad love and mundane, everyday love. I’m ruining it by boiling it down like this. As with the editing, the paper stock, typeface and general presentation of the softcover book is quite lovely. Ha! The feel of it –  Kindle, take your backlit screen and stay safely in the car glove box while this object gets taken onto the warm, lazy sand. The publisher, Donna Ward, introduces the book and then the editor Cate Kennedy writes an introduction that, if I had encountered the book cold, would have definitely turned me off. But (more fool me) the actual editing is fantastic. The stories are divided into seven themed groups. ‘That Sensuous Weight’, ‘Why Cupid is Painted Blind’, ‘Adrift in Shards and Splattered Fruit’, ‘There are Tears, There is Hubris, There is Damnation and Regret’, ‘A Sweetly Alien Creature’, ‘Firm as Anchors, Wet as Fishes’ and ‘The Unbroken Trajectory of Falling’. See, it’s great, serious, considered, wild and heady stuff. The editor notes she sifted this down from 455 submissions. You’d have to take a long holiday after swimming through all that rough water. Bravo to her is all I can say. Some of the stories were too much for me, too willingly intimate, emoting porn. I had to look away. But that’s just me. I’m squeamish. I enjoyed most of it. It’s hard when you’re dealing with words in regard to such highs and lows, hard to distinguish the operatic from the soapsuds. “Fountains of swirling baloney,” as Frank Sinatra said of Mantovani. But there is very, very little of that. Just a taste is all. Love is, after all, a little dopey, don’t you reckon?  I will quote from one story that I greatly enjoyed. I could have written about more but this is not a book I’m writing, it’s a story about a book. It’s from ‘Hooked’ by Toby Sime. “There’s a threshold to our emotions, a bar across the bottom of the door, so that even when they seem to all be flooding away, spilling out, gone forever, some magical portion of them is held in reserve, the seed-stock of a future, happier self. Tidally, love returns. Hope. Self-respect. Joy.” The same story, a wonderful tale about a boy-man’s love for an image of a girl-woman ends with, “O god, Eternity, Womanhead; put out your hand to me, teach me what I want; steal me back and give me to myself again; come to me in your daytime, in a dream that one of us is having, come to me when you will, on high, on low, on a rosy road ahead of me, rising and falling before me, made of what other men have crushed and thrown down before me; O Girl, in your woman’s body, lead me on. Lead me on. Lead me on.”

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