Friday, September 21, 2007

The Monthly reaches out


The Monthly is now available online.

'The Online Monthly' will be published simultaneously with the print edition. It will contain the full text of the current issue, plus every article ever published in the magazine.

We have decided to publish this online edition so that we reach the local 'internet generation' and give Australian expatriates easy access to the magazine.

Believe it or not, there are currently an estimated 860,000 Australians living and working overseas. If you know any of them, and think that they might enjoy The Monthly, please forward this email to them. They can consider subscribing via the link below.

This is a logical step for The Monthly following the incredible success of the printed edition, which is here to stay.

For more information see

Thursday, September 13, 2007

New Poetry by Steven Balters

Rattus Norvegicus

It was afternoon, but you had to stay behind with all the people
Who grew tired of the sun caked windows that inspired sleepwalking.

The grey circuitry boxes tucked inside of the white concrete
Exploded. He knew, yes he knew and he warned of it,
And he sent everyone out the door, following fumes from an electrical fire.

Night was beginning to flood the gymnasium anyways.

Fire consumed and burned and spread to every last classroom.

Now you wonder how he knew the wiring was flawed and self destructive,
Or how he knew rats were gnawing at the motherboard, the system board,
The system. The system was feeding generations of rats by the time the
Roof gave way to the stars, and he only looked oblivious.

Now you wonder this.
As you stand with your best friend
In the slicing sun,
With a school in ashes behind you.

- Steven Balters 2007

Steven Balters is an 18 year old first year student at Seattle University. He was born and raised in Omaha on the plains of Nebraska.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Saint Max

It was the poet Margie Cronin who first drew my attention to Melbourne's The Monthly magazine in one of her frequent circulars. As relatively young writers we had both been hungering for a new voice in the Australian mainstream print media, and The Monthly seemed to be it. It seldom disappoints. But as we head down that slippery slope towards another Federal election, it seems even such young luminaries as The Monthly can't resist the temptation of dragging their colours through the mud of Australian party politics. Mungo MacCallum I will excuse because he has never been anything else but partisan, and his writing is wry and insightful and fed by a rich tradition of Australian political writing stretching back well into the 19th century. His labelling of all swinging voters as "nongs" says a little more about where his politics are stuck than the true state of the Australian polis, but sadly he is not alone in this issue. Atavism remains a plague on this country, and The Monthly is far from immune.

I will begin and end with the cover story of The Monthly September 2007 because I believe it encapsulates all that is wrong with the current editorial approach of what promised not so long ago to be a clean break from the beigists. I know very well why it is the cover story, because it promises to appeal to the most general readership, part human-interest, part political commentary, and because its subject is the universally respected retired ABC journalist Maxine Mckew and her tilt at John Howard's seat of Bennelong (where I am currently jotting down these notes in my boss' carpark after a 90 minute drive to a low-paid job, but more of that later). My problem is not with Maxine Mckew, whom I greatly admire, nor with the intentions of both writer and editor. Maxine will probably fail in her challenge, but she doesn't need me to tell her that. I think what she is doing is bringing the values of the Australian Labor Party to an area of Sydney that has not had much direct exposure to them since the decades between the wars, a thoughtful, charming and beguilingly self-effacing advocate for what, after all, aren't a bad set of core values for what still touts itself as an egalitarian society. My problem is with the tone of the piece. It is one of almost breathless adulation that repeatedly renders the journalist, Judith Brett, immobile when a chance beckons to dig a little deeper. For instance, early in the piece she accuses McKew of a slightly bloodless consensual brand of politics so beloved of marketing types, then all but claps her hands when caught in the trap.

And when I ask her (McKew) about the ALP's position on old-growth logging, and Rudd's, in my view, disgraceful courting of the Tasmanian logging industry, she simply smiles.

Really? And what do you expect her to do, Judith, a journalist of her experience hearing a reporter from The Monthly couch her own opinions within a question? Is this the Big Issue? I can imagine the ever-graceful Maxine feeling for a 2-dollar coin in her pocket.

The journalist then spends two paragraphs on a rather breezy analysis of recent Federal parliamentary history, highlighting a cycle of sorts between consensus (the Hawke years) and the head-butting of Keating and beyond. I'm told it all rates very well on New York cable. She confuses history with short-term trends, however, a chronic distemper among journalists who refuse to read books thicker than a tabloid. Bob Hawke's consensus was a successful ploy to placate Moody's and win back the triple A rating, but it was also a successful attempt to bury the hatchet of the old class war that had been picked up by middle-class students in the 60's and poked and prodded until it was almost unrecognisable. By which I mean Whitlam.

Of course Rudd is very different from Bob Hawke, he doesn't have Whitlam and a faux class-war to bury. He just has Paul Keating and his volumes of visceral bon-mots to bury ("conga line of arseholes" has become the national favourite, I think). History never really repeats itself, not really, that's just a stick our imaginations hold over us whenever the winds of change blow the map clean out of our hands. But saints do not good politicians make, and Kevin Rudd is a very good politician. The likes of Judith Brett would do well to remember that the next time they consider committing twaddle such as this to paper

So if Rudd were to win, the times would suit McKew's style of politics and her gift for listening to people. All the courtesy and charm that made her such a persuasive interviewer are being brought to her new role as a candidate, as are her skills in intelligent listening. When she's talking to you, you have her whole attention: her wide eyes are attentive, she smiles and nods, she reaches out and touches you.....

And so on.....

In fact, while I was typing out this dire excerpt I was thinking to myself I should inspect more closely the funding streams for The Monthly, because this piece is beginning to feel more and more like paid advertising. But then I considered the subject, a truly sincere and honourable woman....But then I thought of the party she is representing, one of the oldest and toughest political outfits in the Westminster system, and then I thought, slow down Justin, one step at a time, and anyway, these are your knees.

At street level, right under McKew's office, the Liberals have rented a shopfront which is plastered, inside and out, with posters of a smiling John Howard, Australian flags and the Liberal insignia. The door is open and inside a man is sitting at a desk. I'll go in and talk to him later, I think.........

This is good thinking, Judith, you are a journalist, and the man you have set in so sinister a setting is, for better or worse, a small part of the other side of the story.

One of the posters of Howard had been graffitied...."One of your lot did this, I suppose." He (from across the street) is about 70, trim and fit, with a buzzed head and a muscle bound walk. Our embarrassed protestations that we know nothing about it....are met with scornful insults. I don't feel like going to talk with him after that.....

Great journo's instinct there, Judith! Just what this country needs, another half-told tale!

This is palliative journalism for an ageing generation whose habitual posturing sounds increasingly creaky.

To Judith Brett's eventual credit, she does feel out the opinions of the older Chinese community in Benelong who have not forgotten John Howard's infamous anti-Asian rant in the late 1980's. But once again she fails to ask them the question even your humble poet-blogger has managed to ask them here in this very car park - why only now has the local Asian community turned against John Howard? Instead we get a self-proclaimed "eureka moment"

My eureka moment came when she was talking about the Liberals' attack on the unions. "When Howard is attacking unionists, he is attacking all the essential-service workers, the nurses, the police, the transport workers. And the teachers. I am sick of teachers being insulted and beaten up on. I am appalled. I want to be a champion for teachers."

You're not alone there, Maxine. But all these are state issues. The TWU aside, the Federal government has no say over the fate of any of them, and the last time I checked Benelong was a Federal seat. At least one woman at the interview knew that.

So what is my point after this heartless harangue? Well, I would have hoped many of you could by now sing along at least half the chorus with me.

Firstly, I abhor the fossilisation of Australian written culture in the bitter aspic of 1975. The banks got to Jack Lang in NSW in 1933, and they got to Whitlam in Canberra in 1975, as they have got to so many others more and less worthy than these two. Forget it, move on. Both sides had very good reasons for what they did and anyway all are history now.

Secondly, I am tired of lazy journalism fobbed off under some Wolfeian banner taking up precious real estate along the ever-diminishing print highway of this island. These are cramped, complex, terrifying times that no amount of courtesy and charm are going to see us through (as anyone who walked the police gauntlet out of Hyde Park on APEC Saturday will shakily attest). This is no longer a world populated by ideals, international jihad aside. We all have to look squarely at things as they are, at the world we have inherited, try to steady that roller coaster that has been going wild for the best part of a hundred years. It is, after all, the credo Maxine McKew has never stopped living by.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

New Poetry by Kevin Gillam

one bulb

a pillar of cloud rests
above your room of one
bulb on a string, breaths in
their many, thoughts stunted,
too few, where you lie, curled
and clammy, hands and arms
splayed as if on a clock
at a quarter to ache

you've done this before, half
gone and left this constell-
ation, half gift and stayed,
as moon for one bulb. floor-
boards won't whisper, stars blink,
don't see. you kiss cirrus

- Kevin Gillam 2007

his numbers

for him, numbers were his plug, as
sometimes (and he'd read this, man of
reason that he was),
he felt the bath-water spiral
(didn't everyone?) towards madness,
inviting the sweet collapse, gifts of
meander, violent shake, up/down
in/out of jigsaw box

some numbers looped, spun in this man of
reason, and, fully given over, he
didn't fight, didn't kick, couldn't, just
invited, in from the cold, hot
meal, fire and time, in,
in from the cold came his numbers

- Kevin Gillam 2007