Issue 27 Transitions: Ecopoetics from the Global South arrives at a time of uncertainty—which is perhaps a cliché to say now— but also at the titular time of transitions. Extremely rapidly, the earth and our climates are changing and we are adapting the way we live in order to sustain life. As writers and creators, we are attempting to make sense of these transitions, to deconstruct our human damages, to imagine futures, and discern meaning and hold a lens to the current and the past. This collection of ecopoetry, fiction and nonfiction offers fresh insights on climate and environmental discourse from across Australia and the global south.
Our guest poetry editor Caitlin Maling, shares her insights on this issue’s poetry collection:
In the call out for this edition, the editors specified they/we were looking for work ‘from those whose connection to land, culture and community are often silenced’ to ask ‘how can we use writing to explore the complex relationships between the natural environment, human experience, culture, place, urbanisation, colonisation and climate change?’
We received hundreds of very good poems submitted, but the ones I’ve chosen for the issue, I chose in light of these incitations. I was interested in work that pushed into the uncomfortable spaces of ecopoetics, whether thematic or formal, so Greg Page asserts that ‘B\barbed Wire’ is ‘no bigger symbol of the invasion / … the continent is still covered in the stuff’ and Ojo Taiye asks ‘What is it that makes me see myself / more loving than the capitalist world?’, while Rachel Mead reworks Terrance Haye’s in the form of a golden shovel to state ‘the answers are needed the world staring down its own destruction / and here I sit twiddling around with rhythm and the fall of a word’ and Craig Santos Perez puts the sonnet to use to show us ‘California / where fire is harvesting four million acres / of ash’. This is not to say there is not beauty to be found in the ashes of these poems; we have many poems that insist on specificity, on valuing the minutiae of the extra-than-human world; Debbie Lim brings us the blue-ringed octopus ‘flashing its blue halos’, while Vinita Agrawal offers us what has been lost of the ‘Splendid Poison Frog’ with its ‘skin, brilliant coral, eyes, kohl black’.
What I found in each of the poems selected was a complexity of thought, one that consistently implicated language – the poem – in the patterns of power linked to ecological destruction, but conversely also offered us language as a productive creative force. They are not peaceful poems, because these are not peaceful times, but they are poems from which we might draw solace, even respite, and above all they are poems that insist on joining, bringing together times, themes, forms, places and species.
— Caitlin Maling
Following similar thematic concerns, our fiction and nonfiction decentre the anthropocene or deeply embed ecological life and destructive climatic consequences with human realities. Ruminations of the past, the future, displacement and colonial dominance permeate these stories, as well as a sense that all life forms are fundamentally connected and dependent. We are invited to see from nonhuman beings: Zoë Meager’s koalas clinging for life entangled in hedonistic human entertainment, and an ageing Fig Tree in Dinasha Edirisinghe’s Vesak which fluidly shifts between human perspectives and the tree in connecting contemplations. Jenni Mazaraki and Juanita Broderick reflect on the ongoing repercussions of natural disaster, loss and rebuilding life. Broderick’s Cathedral Thinking in particular provides a unique link between environmental destruction for Iceland and Australia’s Indigenous peoples. Moving beyond Australia, Sushma Joshi’s essay offers a rich and sharp insight into the damaging environmental impacts of Nepal’s communist rule on daily life.
We also have glimpses of the near future: Isabelle Quilty imagines an evocative planet of absence, while April DeMoyer constructs a catastrophic dystopian near future filled with corruption, synthetic substances and a new-world climate largely incompatible with the plants we know today. And lastly, the intimacy and tenderness of Megan Cheong’s narrative is an opportunity to reflect on our role as parents or nurturers of vulnerable humans on an ever more vulnerable planet.
This issue also features two new reviews alongside seventeen reviews published throughout the second half of the year—the collection spanning a broad and fresh range of ideas and critical considerations. We are very proud to continue our partnership with the Deborah Cass Prize and publish the winning entry: Bryant Apolio’s ‘Independencia’. It is also a pleasure to publish the two runner ups: Ira Frolova and Patrick Arulanadam. Congratulations to the winners, and to another year of these integral awards celebrating writers from migrant backgrounds.
We are thrilled to feature Stickmob artist Alyssa Mason’s stunning ‘Rainbow Serpent’ as our cover art. The human-animal-environment interaction in her work opens up deep considerations.
Finally, we offer our congratulations and a warm thank you to all our talented contributing writers, our guest poetry editor Caitlin Maling, our founding editor Michelle Cahill for her guidance, and our wonderful readers.
Editors Monique Nair & Anthea Yang
We are thrilled to launch our first issue as Mascara’s new team, after almost one year since our last issue ‘Covid Contingencies’. It has been difficult to keep track of time amidst all the challenges we are facing in our communities on a local, national and international level. These challenges that have permeated our lives, our screens, our minds and our writing.
We recall the many lockdowns in Melbourne, particularly the trauma caused by the hard lockdowns in the North Melbourne and Flemington towers, revealing the discrimination and systemic racism that underpins our government’s responses when it comes to migrant communities. Globally, the ongoing fight to dismantle colonialism and white supremacy is sandwiched between the continuous action against police brutality, the enormous increase in Asian hate crimes in the US, and the oppression and dispossession of Palestinians. Amidst the grief, the anger, the disbelief, we find the way forward is through community and collectiveness. Which is why we are honoured to continue Mascara’s work to push against racism and expand the literary space for talented CALD and First Nations creators, allies and writers extending craft to new experimental territories.
This is displayed in issue 26 where we bring together the work of nine poets and three works of fiction as well as the 2020 Deborah Cass Prize winners. The inaugural Mascara x Bundanon Writers Residency announced this year is also a reflection of our need for creative extension. Congratulations again to Deborah Cass prize winner Anith Mukherjee and the two runner ups, Dasha Maiorova and Sahib Nazari. This issue also includes fifteen reviews that we have published throughout the year, offering close and critical considerations on a range of diverse and urgent new publications. Our beautiful and vibrant cover art was created by Melbourne based writer and artist Eloise Grills.
This year, with two Melbourne based editors we have extended our bases across both Sydney and Melbourne and are excited about engaging more closely with Melbourne’s literary scene. We are delighted to publish reviews on books written by Jennifer Mackenzie and Shu-ling Chua as well as publishing work from Josie/Jocelyn Deane and Dani Netherclift. We are deeply thankful to be funded this year by Creative Victoria and the Australia Council for the Arts. We hope to provide opportunities to support Victoria’s dynamic literary community as well as maintain our Australia wide and global outreach with exciting projects in the near future.
Thank you to all our contributing writers and thank you readers for your patience and support. In this Naidoc week of Healing Country this issue proudly features reviews of Nardi Simpson’s Song of the Crocodile by Pip Newling, Timmah Ball’s review of Evelyn Araluen’s DropBear and Anne Brewster’s review of Karen Wyld’s Where Only the Fruit Falls as well as poetry by Samia Goudie and Paul Collis. We thank our First Nations editor, Lyndsay Urquhart whose knowledge of elders, community and language is enrichening. We acknowledge that the lands we live and work on are unceded Aboriginal Country.
Mascara has flourished because of our dedicated collective of past commissioning editors, guest editors, and co-founding editors. Their support, encouragement and continued work with the journal is enormously appreciated.
We are delighted to take this issue live and excited for Mascara’s next steps, for our upcoming special issues and other forthcoming projects.
Editors Anthea Yang & Monique Nair
Our special China Transnational issue of Mascara found inspiration after last year’s conference of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature in Melbourne, ‘Looking In, Looking Out: China and Australia’, a colloquy that was enriched by the presence of the esteemed translator, Li Yao, as well as Chinese post-graduate students. It was apparent, however, that Australian Studies in China is often framed from the perspective of industry, institutions and dual nationalisms. This opened up a space that felt necessary for creative contributions from the Chinese diaspora, from the voices of experimentalism, political struggle, human rights activism; and from the border homelands as China maps out new geostrategic objectives.
This kind of complexity is reflected in May Ngo’s ‘Little Red Book’, a story about an ethnic Chinese family in Cambodia during the Vietnam War, when China’s presence alternated its alignment with and against the Americans. Martin Kovan’s border fictions and his critical writing point to a tendency to flatten out minority narratives, or the need to register the pessimism of living for generations on the perimeter of powerful regimes, such as the Kachin people have, ‘and dream of a different tomorrow: a jade bridge crossing over from poverty to a life free from it.’ Tsering Dhompa’s startling memoir, Coming Home to Tibet reminds us that ‘This is not a simple story.’ There are many perspectives we need to engage with, however demanding, if what we value can survive the totalising rhetorics of power. Language is a space where this must be negotiated.
Yet many of these poems and stories are free of explicit ideology; experimenting in textual practise or supplementing the visual with the verbal as poets, Nadia Rhook and Bella Li do; perhaps the most avant garde being AJ Carruthers’s prosodic dissonances of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, (EvFL stanzas). In her interview with Emily Yu Zong, Hao Jing Fang describes Chinese science fiction as heterogeneous and resisting politicisation. Restraint in Brianna Bullen’s story ‘The Last Giant Panda’ compels a reconsideration of cyber indulgence and our disregard for non-human animals. Gender politics and the violence of banality in suburban life are rendered surreal and allegorical in Dorothy Tse’s ‘The Door’ translated by Natascha Bruce. In Wanling Liu’s ‘Childhood Surprise’ and in Xiaoshuai Gou’s ‘The Cup’ these tropes formally shape the flash fiction, suggesting traces of culture and memory.
29 years following the Tiananmen Square massacre this issue remembers and honours the student dissidents whose civic protests and hunger strikes tragically ended in bloodshed. The events of 1989 have been erased as a forbidden zone in Chinese press, education and scholarship but they were deeply disturbing for all of us whether watched through the lens of the media as distant spectators or whether through the intimate and moving platform of diplomacy. Today, as insiders or global citizens, a collective dynamics connects the micro histories in our lives, which are inseparable from and reliant on memory’s shards and the stirrings of political consciousness. Ravi Shankar’s eloquent review of Liu Xia’s Empty Chairs not only honours her struggle for freedom (‘a life that hides behind death masks’) but her poetics as a woman whose literary art has been overshadowed by the masculinised machineries of political repression and representation.
The social theorist Arik Dirlik gave his last urgent book a one-word title: Complicities. Published not long before the author’s death last year and subtitled The People’s Republic of China in Global Capitalism, the book argues for the complicity that exists between China and the rest of the world at almost every level today. ‘These relationships in their very fluidity dynamize global politics and culture’, he writes, insisting that, given such entanglements, any ‘criticism must account for outsiders’ complicities’ too, articulating ‘the contradictions of a global capitalism to which no outside exists except in its interior’. As readers, it is worth considering to what extent this might implicate creativity in language as a process of interaction, adaptation, responsibility/responsiveness—to change, connection, conflict and recovery. The scope if this China Transnational issue is borderless, receptive to the language of territories and identities claimed as Chinese, or contested, or impacted on by an expanding Sinosphere, across varied literary tropes and linguistic spaces. Across it all there are some commonalties: the importance of the child as sign of the future or the past; the presence of history; the power of anger; the art of being heard.
Through a program of support from the Copyright Agency Limited and the Australia Council for the Arts it has been a great privilege to work with our mentee Shirley Le, indeed with each writer featured in this issue. We are delighted to have published Chinese Australians of mixed ancestry and several Chinese students who currently call Australia their home. At a time when almost daily the public’s fears and insecurities with respect to our shared cultures are being ignited politically, we hope you find in this issue writing that is brave, nuanced, unique and transnational.
Michelle Cahill and Nicholas Jose