This month’s issue comprises:
Launch of Holding Patterns by Alasdair Cannon
October release of Herding Cats by To Giang (Author) & Hai Luong (Translator)
Australian Poetry Anthology: Call for Submissions
2. Antiquarian Restoration: Editorial by Lucas Smith, Editor-in-Chief
3. The Picasso Century – Return to Order: A Digital Exhibition
4. Knulp by Herman Hesse (1915): Review by Andrea Jonathan, Executive Director
The end of this month has brought with it chilly nights and singing gales, as Bonfire HQ has temporarily relocated to the further reaches of south-west Gippsland to see out the remaining days of the half-year. In between stalking kangaroos with cameras and nearly having my car’s front end written off by a couple of wayward does dashing onto the track, we have set aside some of the remaining daylight to prepare Bonfire’s newsletter for our dear readers. There is a lot going on for us to share with you.
We can finally announce the much-anticipated release of Holding Patterns by Alasdair Cannon. Pre-Orders received before the 28th of June have now all been sent out (the remainder to be sent shortly), please get in touch via email at info(at)bonfirebooks.org if you haven’t received your pre-ordered copy. Holding Patterns is available for purchase on our website here (Australian orders) and on Amazon (International orders) and at selected retailers (full list coming shortly). Holding Patterns launch events have been scheduled in Townsville, Brisbane and Melbourne and thank you to everyone who has RSVP’d. Please see our events page for details and RSVP forms.
We are also excited to announce the upcoming publication of Herding Cats, a true-crime memoir by Vietnamese author To Giang (translation by Hai Luong) in early October 2022. Originally published as Đường Xanh Viễn Xứ (The Green Faraway Road) by Nha Nam Publishers in August 2021, Herding Cats is the first English-language translation of Giang’s story of his involvement in and eventual conviction for cultivating cannabis for Melbourne’s Vietnamese organised-crime syndicates.
Đường Xanh Viễn Xứ (The Green Faraway Road) has become a best-seller in Vietnam and we expect its translation, Herding Cats, to be of great interest to Australian readers. Conveyed in a vivid yet candid voice, Herding Cats reveals the inner workings of the cannabis trade and Giang’s personal struggle of holding onto a dream as his world slips out of control.
A brief quote from the text:
Dân chăn mèo live in ordinary houses that contain a secret cannabis farm. They come up with various scripts for the crop-sitters to hoodwink the neighbours, police monitors, and public officials (known as cats). These people are called cats because cats are snoopy. Cannabis growers must overcome these cats. In essence, deflecting the cats’ curiosity is one of the most important determinants of successful cat herding. Put another way, dân chăn mèo are mice, but mice that herd cats! Although the authorities have measures to combat the secret growing of cannabis indoors, these are often ineffective. Diamond cuts diamond! As an intelligent man, chăn mèo or a ‘cat herder’ devises unique and bizarre mazes that act like lassos around the necks of the cats.
From a Vietnamese interview with the author:
The book helped me say many things. Readers that are dân chăn mèo ‘cat herders’ will learn more lessons about the profession of living in the dark. Those who fantasize about this life will understand the demonic world of financial corruption that is to be avoided. But first, the book is the “person” who pulls me up to live.
We are thrilled to announce that submissions for our 2023 poetry anthology are now open.
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 are open to Australian citizens and Australian residents only.
Earlier in the month, I had the pleasure of attending the 2022 Australian Book Sellers Association Trade Exhibition. Along with some some other Small Press Network member publishers, we had the opportunity to meet with book buying agents, book shop owners, printers and writers, and talk about our catalogue and the book trade in general. Thanks to Tim Coronel for organising our passes and Tiana Gullotta and Neysha Santos for their help on the day. SPN is an organisation for small publishers in Australia, check out their website here.
Editorial by Lucas Smith
Last month I visited a second-hand and antiquarian bookseller which, due to rising rents and fewer customers, had recently moved from a prized inner-city location with some of the heaviest foot traffic in the country to a warehouse in a mid-ring suburb with almost no foot traffic. Looking at the overflowing shop with books stacked up from floor-to-ceiling, I mentioned to the proprietor how extensive his range appeared.
“Yes,” he said, “but there’s so much we haven’t got.”
The proprietor grew up in the outback where there was only ABC radio. He remembers listening to Geoffrey Smart offering vivid feedback to children on the artworks they would send in. He lamented that younger generations don’t use their imaginations, having grown up saturated in imagery from screens both large and small.
I asked him what would happen when the store’s owner died or sold up. Even though there is so much they don’t have, he said, there is little to no market for what they do have. As the bookseller put it, “even if we discounted everything eighty per cent there would still be heaps of stuff that no one wants.”
Second-hand and antiquarian bookshops are suffering, and it’s hard to say how long even the best ones will survive. I will say it before and say it again, if you read, buy physical books now. One of the paradoxes of the Australian book market is that many antiquarian books are now selling for around the same price or cheaper than new books. I purchased a hardback of AD Hope’s Dunciad Minor in perfect condition for less than the price of a new release novel.
One of the two pillars of Bonfire is classic restorations. These are not simply reprints. Our titles receive the same kind of attention to detail that a begrimed Renaissance painting might receive: a full make-over, new covers, new layout, new introductions, and new footnotes as required. You aren’t receiving a set-and-forget facsimile copy but a restored original. We have deliberately chosen titles that are not readily available, even in antiquarian shops, and mindful that sometimes things deserve to be forgotten, we have chosen titles we believe can stand a further test of time. Later in the year we will announce a never before published work from the 1920’s.
Note: In my review of Chinese Poetic Writing by Francois Cheng in last month’s newsletter I said that there was no Western equivalent to Chinese calligraphy, which combines performance and composition in one. A reader contacted me to say that in his opinion the analogue may be in the western oral tradition of epic poetry, the Chinese having no known, or no significant oral poetry, the visual element being absolutely integral to their poetry, so, as the reader writes, “the ‘performance’ or ‘bardic’ element is served…by a unique and unrepeatable written iteration of the poem.” Like me, he is not an expert, but this sounds plausible as an analogy.
To order titles from our catalogue please visit bonfirebooks.org
The Picasso Century—Return to Order: A Digital Exhibition
by Andrea Jonathan
Despite the fact that Melbourne’s lockdowns are over I find myself needing some encouragement to get back out into the world again. To that end, I booked tickets to the NGV’s The Picasso Century and made my way down to the Southbank gallery on a Friday evening. I had first seen Picasso’s works at the Centre Pompidou as teenaged tourist where I quietly sauntered past hundreds of paintings that blurred into one or two, having pleased my parents that I had ticked the box of cultural cultivation. The colourful and imposing portraits by Picasso that I recall from this early visit were a jolt of intensity which represented a departure from seemingly endless rooms of dark and beauteous renaissance oils.
Despite not having any particular affection or fascination with his works, The Picasso Century exhibition was edifying for me as it takes one on a tour through the various phases of his life, work and politics, interspersed with that of his contemporaries. What stood out to me was to learn of the middle theme of his artistic career outlined by the exhibition curators as ‘The Return to Order’ during the post-Great War period, during which the aggressive dynamism of futurism and cubism were felt to have been discredited by the monstrosity of the first large-scale mechanised war. Several of these figurative portraits that combined a neo-classical and modern style were exhibited at the gallery and I will share some of them with you here.
The Picasso Century is open until the 9th of October at the NGV International, Southbank Victoria. More details can be found on the NGV website: https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/exhibition/the-picasso-century/
Knulp by Herman Hesse (1915)
(trans. Ralph Manheim, 1969)
Review by Andrea Jonathan
Continuing the theme of previous reviews of Hunger by Knut Hamsen and A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov, Knulp is a boyish vagabond who lives for brief and spontaneous moments of joy and beauty between the small towns of antebellum Germany. It was one of Hesse’s early successes before Demian and Steppenwolf, and Herr Knulp, as a redeemable rebel who spurned a traditional or bourgeois life, came to prefigure the themes evident in Kerouac’s novels and his contemporaries of the beat generation.
It is hard as a contemporary reader to discern how much of Hesse’s charming bucolic depictions of pre-modern central European village life were themselves reactionary or nostalgic. Knulp’s encounters with local tailors, tanners and beautiful young servant-girls could be written of any époque, and reminded me somewhat of the fantasy genre in its vivid depictions of food, drink and caricatured craftsmen that fully embody their trade.
The question asked of the handsome and charming traveller who never settled down, is why he let his life and appreciable talents, of wit, art, song and charm ‘go to waste’ as it were, in forgoing the stability of home and hearth with a wife and family, as put to him by his old friends and by Knulp himself. But rather than pronounce his time on earth wasted, in facile moralism, Hesse sends Knulp to humble himself before God in the dialogue of a dream. God did not condemn the life of Knulp, but rather considered the gaiety and friendship that he brought to his friends and countrymen, and that the women whose hearts he had broken did not blame him but rather cherished his memory.
From the text:
“Lucky man,” the tanner reflected with a tinge of envy. And on his way to the tanning pits Rothfuss thought about his eccentric friend who wanted nothing of life but to look on, and the tanner could not have said whether this was asking too much or too little. A man who worked hard and got ahead was better off in many ways, but he could never have such delicate, graceful hands or walk with such a light and jaunty step. No, Knulp was right in doing what his nature demanded and what few others could do, in speaking to strangers like a child and winning their hearts, in saying pleasant things to ladies of all ages, and making Sundays out of weekdays.
I can only imagine this to have been a radical thesis, based on a contemporary reading of social mores a century ago, but then I wonder if this is truly the case. Was there not a role for everyone in the world of Knulp, and was it not possible for the simple charms and joy of an artist’s spirit to disarm the expectations and judgement of those who had chosen a more responsible life? I suspect we give ourselves too much credit today, when we ourselves may be so caught up in our own paradigms of righteousness that we fail to observe small and spontaneous moments of joy, when embodied by another in a form that we could not imagine for ourselves.