What We’ve Been Reading: June 0 Comments

What We’ve Been Reading: June

Clare Millar
The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner may only be 90 or so pages but this is a really engaging read. I haven’t read anything by Ben Lerner before, so his style was very new to me. The Hatred of Poetry is an essay that explores different attitudes to poetry. It analyses why some poems appear to work whilst others are terrible. But the biggest question Lerner raises is of whether poetry can really exist. This really engaged me as I struggled to understand how Poetry (yes the capital P Poetry) is an ideal – something that we can’t actually express in language. It’s dreams of perfection, of expressing the absolute essence of something. But in reality, the lower-case poetry, we can’t achieve this. We try, and we manipulate form and meters to get the closest that we can, but Lerner ultimately argues that all poetry is a failure. And that’s not a bleak point of view at all – it’s a particular way of understanding what poetry is and isn’t, and why it’s so difficult to read, write and criticise. I’ll definitely be reading more of Lerner in the future, but honestly I just want more of this! I’m also looking forward to see the literary community’s reactions to this book, as it feels like an important read. I’d definitely tell any students (high school or uni) studying poetry to give this a go. I might not have agreed with every point Lerner made, but it certainly enriched my understanding of poetry.

Myles McGuire
I recently read Emma Cline’s debut novel The Girls, which was so disgustingly brilliant that it’s ruined my ability to enjoy anything else. An aesthetic cousin to The Virgin Suicides and The Secret History, it chronicles fourteen-year-old Evie’s unorthodox journey to adulthood as she becomes indoctrinated into a Manson Family-inspired cult in 1960s California. A sepia-toned portrait that perfectly captures the primordial ambiguity of childhood, The Girls is remarkable not for its ostensible hook—the sexy, murderous teenage fanatics—but for the fact that even the nominal leader of this sect is window-dressing to an astonishingly rendered experience of girlhood. Cline’s observations are so sharp and original, a Romantic masterclass in beauty underscored by decay, that it seems inconceivable her ordinary Evie—who, thanks to the powers of perception that Cline endows her with, is anything but—won’t claim a place alongside Jane Eyre and Esther Greenwood in the pantheon of seminal heroines encountered by young women reading their way to adulthood. Reading something so transcendent (and subsequently making it halfway through Annie Proulx’s Barkskins before being forced to stop and ask, ‘What am I doing with my life?’) prompted me to revisit another uncompromising classic: Christina Stead’s brutal The Man Who Loved Children, or, as I like to think of it, Reasons Why Creative Australians Should Strongly Consider Expatriating And Marrying A Marxist. It is an absolute banga of a domestic parable that makes The Corrections look like Happy Days.

Vince Ruston
Since uni finished up for the semester, and I finished up working with the Emerging Writers’ Festival, I’ve been coveting any spare time I have to read; until this week I hadn’t finished a book in months. Anna Spargo-Ryan’s The Paper House had been on my to-read list for months; her work on all things mental health have influenced a lot of my own writing, and helped me in understanding my mental illness(es). It would be an understatement to say I was ‘excited’ when I heard Anna was releasing a novel. The Paper House was a perfect way to return to reading for leisure. It’s exquisitely written; each sentence is fresh and poetic. I read so hurriedly, but I was constantly going back to reread favourite lines. Spargo-Ryan captures the feelings of grief and anxiety so well, with the kind of descriptions that made me need to occasionally put the book down to breathe. Many of the characters surrounding protagonist Heather seemed to want to ignore how great her grief was. Their lack of understanding and sympathy towards Heather’s mental state hits close to home. I also recently finished The Toy Maker, the most recent work by Voiceworks alumnus Liam Pieper. It’s been a while since I’ve read something by a male writer and not rolled my eyes the entire way through. I studied a large chunk of Holocaust literature last semester, so it’s fascinating to see those literary influences and ideas reappear in The Toy Maker. As you would expect from the subject matter, the book is bleak, both for the reasons you would expect, and others. The completely unexpected twist will make you want to reread the whole book through a new perspective. If you’re looking for some light and joyful reading, I would recommend neither of these books. But if you’re like me and won’t read something that won’t rearrange something internally, I’d advise getting your hands on a copy of both.

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