Hello friends and readers of Bonfire Books,
As the year draws to a close, we are busy tying up loose ends, against every Antipodean inclination to indolence. We are in the process of reviewing some promising submissions for our 2023 Australian Poetry Anthology, and have been busy updating our website and planning our publishing schedule for 2023. We hope you enjoy this month’s Fanning the Flames.
This month’s issue comprises:
Australian Poetry Anthology: Call for Submissions – deadline extension
Herding Cats is now available in Avenue Bookstore Richmond at 91 Swan St, Richmond, Victoria and also at Paperback Bookshop, 60 Bourke Street, Melbourne.
2. Jindyworobakism: Editorial by Lucas Smith, Editor-in-Chief
3. Fernando Álvarez de Sotomayor y Zaragoza: A Digital Exhibition by Andrea Jonathan, Creative Director
4. Streets Again (2022) by R.J Smith: Review by Andrea Jonathan, Creative Director
Australian Poetry Anthology: Call for Submissions. The deadline has now been extended to the 15th of December 2022. If you are yet to submit, or know a fellow poet who may be interested in submitting, please note this deadline extension. Guidelines below.
Thanks to a grant from the English-Speaking Union (Victoria Branch) Bonfire Books will showcase the finest in contemporary verse in early 2023.
Please send up to 3 poems in a .pdf, .doc or .docx attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org. with “Your Surname-POETRY” in the subject line. Poems should be no more than 100 lines each and no more than five pages per full submission. Poems may be previously published in periodicals within the last five years but not in books. Poets will be remunerated and will receive a copy of the anthology. While all poetic forms and themes are welcome, preference will be given to music, sense, meaning and felicity of language. Submissions close on the 15th of December and are open to Australian citizens and Australian residents.
Herding Cats is now available in Avenue Bookstore Richmond at 91 Swan St, Richmond Victoria and also at Paperback Bookshop, 60 Bourke Street Melbourne.
We are big believers in the importance of local and independent bookshops, who are important partners for upcoming authors and small presses such as ourselves, and would encourage our readers to visit one they haven’t visited before in their area.
That’s all for this month.
Editorial by Lucas Smith
The Jindyworobak movement was a loosely connected group of poets active mostly in the 1930s and 40s who sought to renew the Australian imaginary, drawing on Aboriginal mythology and the particularities of Australian landscape, flora and fauna. The word Jindyworobak means “annex” or “join” in Aranda. Their goal was not to co-opt Aboriginal culture or pass it off as their own but to enter imaginatively into the reality that the Australian landscape has its own metaphysics. They are credited with introducing the concept of “the Dreamtime” to popular awareness, among other concepts from mostly Central Australian Indigenous sources.
The five principals of the movement, Rex Ingamellls, Ian Mudie, Flexmore Hudson, William Hart-Smith and Roland Robinson, with a score of dilettantes in train, produced a yearly anthology from 1938-48, that also featured a number of other poets who were not fully aligned in philosophy or idealism but nevertheless found some sympathy with the movement, including Mary Gilmore, Judith Wright and James McAuley.
Ingamells, Mudie and Hart-Smith were all from Adelaide, then much more Capital of the Outback than it is today, removed not only from London and New York, but also Sydney and Melbourne, a reminder that innovation often comes from the margins even if it finds its fullest expression in the centre.
As might be imagined the lasting results of the Jindies were mixed. With the exception of Robinson, nearly all of what they knew of Aboriginal life came from books. At their best they were poets thinking through the implications of being European on this continent. Take “Intruder” by Ian Mudie, which is not the smoothest prosody but concisely expresses a thought that must have occurred to just about every Australian at some point. It is brief enough to quote in full:
When I walk
I do not know
What ancient sacred place
My foot may desecrate
Or if my tread shall fall
Where some cult-hero bled,
Or shed blood,
Or gave fire to man
In the far dreamtime.
Of the long-dead tribe,
My uncicatrised intrusion;
And do not send
To haunt my dreams
Surely you can guess
Is uneasy enough
We are very far from the Australian ballad tradition, Wordsworth with gumtrees and Sunburnt Country kitsch. Jindy threads of influence can still be traced to this day, although it remains on the margins of the mainstream. Les Murray “half-jokingly” (half-seriously?) called himself the last of the Jindies.
In the current environment of renewed emphasis on Aboriginal issues, it’s interesting to think about the possibilities of a fully mature Jindyworobak movement. Its demise was hastened by the premature death of Ingamells, who was always the organisational and spiritual driver of the movement.
Robinson, according to Murray, was the best of the Jindies because he did his own research, befriending and interviewing elderly Aborigines up and down the Eastern seaboard. Robinson also, as Brian Elliott points out in the introduction to his definitive The Jindyworobaks (University of Queensland Press, 1979), can lay claim to the astonishing distinction of being “the only Australian poet ever, perhaps, to carry the whole of his repertoire in his head; he has always scorned poets who could not remember their verses and speak them, as well as print them.” In this ability he had ample company from countless generations of Aborigines.
With the possible exception of Robinson, who enjoyed publication in the selective Angus and Robertson Modern Poets series, all of the principal Jindies are out of print, but remain readily available in secondhand bookshops and at reasonable prices from antiquarian booksellers.
I believe Australian particularities, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, still contain huge untapped artistic potential although doubtless they will look much different today than they did in the 1930s. In a cultural landscape made barren by conglomerates pushing the lowest common denominator revenue generators, cultural renewal will come from those who stoop and squat in front of dusty secondhand shelves, squinting for gold among dross.
To order titles from our catalogue please visit bonfirebooks.org
Fernando Álvarez de Sotomayor y Zaragoza: A Digital Exhibition
by Andrea Jonathan
Continuing on the Iberian theme from The Picasso Century at the NGV included in an earlier newsletter, I want to highlight the works of some of the now lesser-known 20th century Spanish realists, in particular Fernando Álvarez de Sotomayor y Zaragoza, a highly decorated painter and curator with a mouthful of a name typical of distinguished Spanish families.
Influenced by his time studying in Holland, his works often contain a darkness or seriousness that distinguishes him from his Spanish and Italian contemporaries. The few paintings that I have chosen contain a variety of subjects, including portraits of the local Gallician people from the north of Spain, who feature prominently in his biography, as well as aristocratic and military subjects.
Whilst Picasso became famous and celebrated as one of the exiles of the Spanish Civil war, Fernando Álvarez de Sotomayor remained in Spain, playing a major role in hiding and protecting the artworks of the Prado museum from attack, where he served as deputy director both before and after the war.
Apuntes de uniforme de gala de capitán general, oil on canvas, 1943
Montserrat Güell López-Bertrán, oil on canvas, 1943
Abuela y nietos, oil on canvas, 1916
El Paular, 1905, oil on canvas.
Women of Las Mariñas, oil on board, 1920
Procession in Malpica (La Coruña), oil on canvas, 1940s.
Streets Again (City Limit) (2022) by R.J Smith
Review by Andrea Jonathan
Streets Again is a novel in Smith’s City Limit series, self-published in October 2022, and explores the life of Rick Hinton, an aspiring Australian writer living in Paris that I suspect borrows heavily from Smith’s experiences living there. After a failed relationship with a Parisian girl, Rick is left friendless, bar one American, Anton, a fellow louche and writer wannabe.
The concept of the story is notably unoriginal, and yet it is this very fact that I find commendable, of both the character and the writer, the attempt at overcoming the cliché of the Anglo writer in search of literary inspiration, escaping the bourgeois expectations of friends and family back home, whether it be in London, Sydney or somewhere in ‘flyover’ America. To try to do so in the grimy and chaotic streets of northern Paris in the late 2010s, in the backdrop of the migrant crisis, the burning down of Notre Dame and the yellow vest protests, nearly a century and a half after the belle epoque, shows the characters’ commitment to their romantic and eccentric cause.
What I enjoyed about the book is just how well the place comes to life in the inner stream of consciousness of Rick the protagonist, in his wry and witty observations about his surrounds, physically and socially.
“I pass the English language stores. Great writers frequented them a century ago. Now they charge a premium for their heritage and seem conceited and staid. Like overpriced relics. Like Paris itself.”
The small details of the frequent and lengthy trips to local dive bars, the fast-paced dialogue, and the constant incursions and games of sabotage that Rick and Anton play on each other combine to create a vivid if not beautiful life in Paris.
The story takes a long time to launch. In fact it’s not until towards the end of the book that a recognisable plot sequence begins to appear, and after the umpteenth day in Paris with Rick, mostly alone and visiting bistros, or teaching English and picking up students, things begin to feel repetitive. The various intimate relationships with French girls follow a familiar pattern, focused on carnal thrills and ending in disinterest, shame and embarrassment, mocking attempts to recreate the rich worlds of the French romantic writers who came before.
Both Rick and Anton begin to focus on an ethereal concept of what it is to be an artist, and begin to lose their groundedness, growing distant from each other and the city that had held out promise, but delivered only hedonism. Rick’s successful book deal, the one great external validation of his desire to be recognised as a writer, turns out to be an anti-climax and he begins to lose his composure. I felt that the last-minute plot twists were too late, and Anton’s descent into madness felt unbelievable.
It is tempting for writers to write about writing, and it’s something that most people, including myself, find rather uninteresting as a topic. That it’s ‘about the journey, not the destination’ makes a mockery of the art itself, which doesn’t get a look in from Rick in this story, where it functions as little more than a token to be redeemed for a culturally located status, and as a cover for his bad habits and moral failings.
Having said that, I did enjoy reading Streets Again, taking me back to Paris to see a life that I myself perhaps did not have the guts to take a punt on. You can buy Streets Again on Amazon.