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June 26, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

Overland, issue 203

Published 25/6/11 at Arts Hub

On occasion, literary journals can sometimes suffer from a lack of direction. The selection of included works can be so wide-ranging that it becomes difficult to define the stance of the journal, or whether it has one at all, political, literary or otherwise. A literary journal can, quite simply, threaten to fail the very work it is espousing by failing to provide an ideological framework.

Overland, however, has long proved itself as a journal that can maintain a distinctly progressive, left-leaning voice while catering to a range of tastes, styles and genres. As a result, it can sometimes be a challenging read; I remember reading one of Bob Ellis’ contributions to Overland and humming with rage. But wouldn’t you rather a journal that excites emotions rather than quells them?

The latest edition, issue 203, is no exception. Stephanie Holt’s discussion of the St Kilda football scandal in ‘Football’s women problem’ does seem to be treading familiar territory, but thanks to research performed above and beyond the Twitter feeds (a common enough news source in mainstream media, as Holt notes) she is able to delve a little deeper into the ways homoeroticism, team formation sociology and a culture of female sexual degradation combine to infect the public image of the AFL.

Rodney Croome’s ‘True and good citizens’ is a fascinating insight into the use of marriage as a political tool in the early days of Australia’s colonisation, arguing that the history of marriage in Australia ‘is the history of flawed plans to manipulate society by controlling who ordinary people wed’. It’s an arresting subject and links well with his discussion on
the current state of same-sex marriage legislation today, but it seems to gloss over important factors impeding the progression of marriage equality. As Croome himself points out, a ruling on foreign same-sex unions being formally
recognised in Australia was an election year, and a strong conservative Christian base is difficult to ignore. But he pays no due to the frustrating bureaucratic nature of politics that may impede certain sympathetic parties; just how much, for example, has the bureaucracy of politics stilted the same-sex marriage cause?

In a similar vein, Antony Loewenstein’s ‘Boycotts and Literary Festivals’ questions the political power of certain individuals; in this case, writers attending the Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka. Participation in literature events  becomes an oddly charged political event in this context; who and when, for example, decide when it is morally acceptable to attend a literary event in a country trying to forget past (and unpunished) war crimes? It’s a troubling concept, given the power of literature to liberate, and the unfortunate need to utilise it as a political weapon. But as Loewenstein points out, ‘cultural events don’t take place in a vacuum’.

In terms of poetry, Overland seems to come out swinging with a wide range of poetry in varied forms. I lack expertise in the area but there is certainly an excellent and evocative piece in Judy Durrant’s ‘and day breaks’, with the more rhythmic and brutal ‘Posture’ providing an immediate contrast on the opposite page.  It’s difficult to place a finger on why, but each poem in 203 seems quite ‘Australian’ in its tone; perhaps it’s the references to Australian life, but it’s important to note  that none of the selections suffer from a pretentiousness or hubris that detracts from the all-important tone of each piece.

The fiction in Overland has also consistently maintained a beautiful variety of work over the years. In a sampling of this issue’s fiction, the lyrical composition and bittersweet tone of Larissa Behrendt’s story contrasts the somewhat savage tone and storyline of Susan Bennett’s ‘Daylight’. It’s also a story with a twist, which seems rare these days; whatever happened to the joy of a punchy, darkly comedic ending? It almost seems like a relief to see the style make a comeback.

This review has covered only a small section of Overland’s latest issue, but it’s clear from a thorough reading that this literary journal is never short on challenging and varied pieces of all genres, however progressive or diverse the topic.


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