This month’s issue comprises:
1. April Update
2. Upcoming Titles
The True Gods Attend You by Clarence Caddell
Holding Patterns by Alasdair F. Cannon
3. Editorial by Lucas Smith, Editor-In-Chief
4. Digital Exhibition: French Prints in the Era of Impressionism by Lily Hull
5. Hunger (Knut Hamsun), Book Review by Andrea Shershoff, Executive Director
Someone once said that April is the cruelest month but here at Bonfire HQ the fates have been most kind. We are absolutely overjoyed to announce that we have been awarded the Major Project Grant from the English-Speaking Union (Victoria Branch) to publish an anthology of contemporary Australian poetry, to be released in the first quarter of 2023. The details of the call for submissions will be available soon on our website. All Australian or Australian resident poets are invited to submit. Poets and artists included in the published anthology will be remunerated. We would like to extend our sincere thanks to the grant committee and everyone at the ESU for this exciting opportunity.
The English-Speaking Union does wonderful work advancing appreciation of the English language. Please give them a look: esuvic.org.au
In other news, we are delighted to announce that Bonfire will publish a poetry collection by Clarence Caddell, The True Gods Attend You, slated for release this September.
The True Gods Attend You is the debut collection by Australian formalist Clarence Caddell. Drawing on the author’s deep reading of primary Biblical, extra-Biblical and other ancient sources and with direct challenges to both secular and religious worldviews, The True Gods Attend You is a profound and self-reflective examination of the modern conscience. The long blank verse poem that concludes the book is “The Candidate”, a glimpse of the burnt-out spiritual seeker at his moment of invisible crisis, worthy of recent narrative poetry masters like Anthony Hecht. With a strong through-line of satire and irony, The True Gods Attend You is a powerful challenge to obscurity in verse and a bold annunciation of the evergreen riches of linguistic euphony.
Here is a preview of The True Gods Attend You, a sonnet entitled “Alternative Medicine”
A crisis comes and we go off our food;
Too much to drink, and metanoia
Sharp as the laser scalpel of a star
May shine on us, so that we feel renewed
Enough to restart some old inner feud;
Or else we listen to the doctor’s blah
About cholesterol, etc.—
Contrarian my general attitude;
Not that I have forgot that recent time
When, sickened, I swore off all study but
The kind that bragged one day to cure me of
That self opposed to wisdom, peace and love;—
But who would pour the poison, make the cut?
I’d rather the homoeopathy of rhyme.
Finally, in April news, we can reveal the cover of Alasdair Cannon’s Holding Patterns, designed by Lily Hull. Holding Patterns will be out in June. You will not want to miss it.
Holding Patterns is a unique blend of memoir, cultural criticism, psychoanalysis and Nabokovian wordplay, that takes aim at everything from R U OK? Day to Obama’s foreign policy record, and that’s just the first essay. With explosive empathy, disarming candour, and inside-out self-reflection, Cannon dissects some of the deepest problems of the late industrial subject and the society it dwells in, always with an eye to the fleshy person beneath the accretions of our technological world. Featuring dazzling wordplay, deep intertextuality and a few subliminal side quests, Holding Patterns is a debut to savour for lovers of Wallace, Beckett, and other authors attuned to the foundational paradoxes of our time. Alasdair Cannon is a powerful new Australian voice.
On The Strength and Power of Paper
Editorial by Lucas Smith
When we started Bonfire, a big motivation was to see out of print books back in the world. Nothing will ever replace the physical book, just like nothing will ever replace the physical gathering. We can grant screens their expediency but humans are made for analogue and always will be. Waiting for the Singularity is like waiting to hit the ground in a dream. You always wake up first.
Despite many predictions of the demise of the printed book, readers seem to prefer them. In Melbourne, bookstores are thriving. The printer we use to print Bonfire titles here in Australia moved last year into much larger premises so they can expand their operation.
Surveying a well-stocked bookshelf gives off a unique energy that no touch-screen can match. When you gaze into the bookshelf, the bookshelf also gazes back at you. Certain titles jump out, give off an energy, compel you to pick them up, perhaps one that has sat on your shelf neglected for years or decades decides to strike one evening.
Physical books also offer a measure of adventure and serendipity. There is a chance you will be able to see in the margins what past owners thought of a book, what they enjoyed or even what they crossed out. The physical book tells a story of its previous owner(s) as much as it tells the story printed in its pages.
My copy of The Culture of Narcissism (1979) by Christopher Lasch, which I ordered online from a secondhand bookshop, has handwritten notes on the right margin of each page, done in the style of a flipbook. They began sweetly, in praise of the lover who was the addressee, but quickly turned dark, ending with threats of mutual destruction, as the handwriting became increasingly jagged and difficult to decipher, a curiously illustrating the premise of Lasch’s book.
Most reader notes are much happier than this. Quite by accident I once bought a copy of James McAuley’s first book Under Aldebaran that happened to belong to Australian poet, R.F. Brissenden, whose handwritten margin notes on many of McAuley’s mythological allusions, made recourse to a dictionary unnecessary.
The most mysterious book I own is my copy of John Updike’s Rabbit Redux. Inside the front flap, penned in ballpoint blue is the following: “To my very good friend Ernie wishing you all the best for XMAS 1954-55. Benny” What makes this innocuous inscription somewhat troubling is that Rabbit Redux was first published in 1971. How can this be explained? The only thing I can think of is that it was used as a prop in a play or a film, or is some kind of inside joke. Or that Benny was a dementia sufferer. Or, can I suggest, proof of time travel?
In these uncertain times we encourage all to buy physical copies of the books you want to read. The time may be fast approaching when digital books are “updated” or publishers marginalised to suit those in power, or the prevailing zeitgeist. There is no telling who will be considered the literary outcasts of the future. Just as all sin, all are cancellable. Buy physical copies of the books you want to read. Do it now.
To order titles from our catalogue please visit bonfirebooks.org
French Prints in the Era of Impressionism: A Digital Exhibition
by Lily Hull
Nineteenth century Impressionists are most well-known for their ground-breaking manipulation of light through colour in their large oil paintings, however several artists who painted in the impressionist style created works that significantly contributed to printmaking. These black and white drypoints, etchings, aquatints and lithographs maintained the loose technique and subtle attraction that was so often imbued in their oil paintings. The artists included in this month’s digital exhibition are known for encouraging the print to be viewed as an artwork in its own right, propelling the medium away from a mere means of reproduction.
Mary Cassatt at the Louvre, 1879-80
Etching, Drypoint & Aquatint
Woman Reading, c.1885
Le Jour (Day), 1891
The Boy with a Dog (Le garçon et le chien), 1861-1862
Etching and Aquatint
Hunger by Knut Hamsun (1890)
(trans. Robert Bligh, 1969)
Review by Andrea Jonathan
Hunger is the kind of novel that can be read with no prior knowledge of the time or author, although the intellect and hard early life of Hamsun most certainly gave him the idea for the character of his neurodivergent protagonist, to use the contemporary term.
The unnamed first person narrator is defined primarily by his poverty and the suffering he endures as a result. It defines his relations with the city of Christiana and sparks his canny ability to self-deceive and rationalise his adventures in self-sabotage. He is in every sense alone and an outsider. He does not care for social convention yet dearly repents for each of his transgressions, second-guessing himself at every turn. His paranoia and fear folds in on itself as he physically degrades from starvation and deprivation, writing unsolicited articles for a newspaper for modest sums of Norwegian kroner for food, only to be too sick from hunger to be able to keep it down, further crushing his spirit and robbing him of the energy and focus to continue writing.
However Hamsun does not intend to formulate Dickensian critique of a society that could create such conditions; rather the protagonist is the beneficiary of many great kindnesses, of which he is unable to return even gratitude except during brief moments of guilt and self-recrimination. Hamsun’s young man is too clever and dastardly joyful in his way to evoke cheap pity or bolster a moral or political programme. He refuses to accept the station of being homeless, inventing elaborate stories of being ‘at a club’ all night and forgetting his keys to explain to the police his cause for enrolling at a men’s shelter. When he does come across money he fritters or gives it away and does not appear to value it, in an almost aristocratic way.
How can we relate the story to the concerns of the modern-day? There are three broad themes that I have found that correspond to characteristics of contemporary society. The first is the devaluation of the creative mind. We can consider as an example his relationship to the newspaper editor who rewards him for his essays in a way that would never happen today (who could expect to have commercially published an unsolicited philosophical tract called ‘Crimes of the Future’ on free will?), yet he’s still reminded of the lack of commerciality of his writings. Original thought and art are banished to even greater margins than in our protagonist’s day. The second point is the transactional nature of life – our young man keenly feels the shame of asking for credit or begging, driving him to scheme of revenge when spurned or pitied. One cannot help but wonder how one’s own grocer would respond to a request for credit. The third is the willful denial of reality. His descent into madness is in some sense a predictable response that protects his ego from the pain of death. To illustrate this point and some others, I have included the quotes below:
I repeated my question and stepped nearer.
“The editor is not here yet,” Scissors finally said, without looking up.
“When do you expect him?”
“Couldn’t say, couldn’t say at all.”
“How late will the office be open?”
To this I got no answer, and I had to leave. Scissors had not even glanced at me the whole time; he had heard my voice and recognized me from that. You are in so well here, I thought, that they don’t even bother to answer you.
On his pride at overcoming his demons:
Suddenly it struck me that I could just as well make a rat of myself right now and take the blanket off to “Uncle’s” artesian well. I could pawn it for a krone and get three. After I was some distance away, I grew more and more glad that I had won this severe test. The awareness that I was honorable rose to my head, filled me with magnificent conviction that I had character. I was a white beacon tower in the middle of a dirty human ocean full of floating wreckage. To pawn someone else’s property for a single meal, to eat and drink oneself into damnation, to look in your own face and call yourself rat and have to drop your eyes–never! Never!
On the guilt of knowingly accepting someone else’s change at the grocer and the fear of being stood-up on a date:
The beer unfortunately went to my head, I became extremely warm. Thoughts of last night’s adventure flooded over me, made me almost delirious. What if she didn’t come on Tuesday? What if she had started thinking it over and became suspicious! . . . Suspicious about what?. . . My mind suddenly went off on a tangent, and became obsessed with the matter of the money. I felt appalled at myself, deathly afraid. The theft stood out before me in all its details: I saw the little shop, the counter, my emaciated hand as I picked up the money, and I imagined to myself the police procedure as they came to arrest me. Irons on wrists and ankles–no, only on wrists, perhaps only one wrist
On the proclivity of the artist to be his own worst enemy and the least qualified judge of his own work:
My whole story, therefore, was unrealistic and false. Were all the pages worthless? I read them through again and changed my mind: I found wonderful places, long passages that were absolutely first-rate. I was overcome once more by the mad intoxication; I wanted to jump in and get the play done.
On the fraught relations between the sexes:
Good Lord, what excuses women can think up at a time like this! As if I didn’t know it was all nothing but bashfulness, modesty! I must be firm, then!
Come now, be good! No more nonsense!
She struggled rather hard, too hard to be struggling only from modesty. I knocked the candle over accidentally, so it went out. She made desperate opposition, and even gave out a little whimper.
“No, don’t! Don’t! You can kiss me on my breast if you want to instead. My sweet thing!”
I stopped instantly. She sounded so dismayed, so helpless, that I felt a blow inside. She was offering me a compensation by giving me permission to kiss her breast! How lovely, how lovely and how naive! I could have fallen on my knees before her.
“You darling!” I said, utterly confused. “I don’t understand this. . . . I don’t really grasp which game all this is. . . .”
Hunger is an exploration of strange disharmony of the inner truths and delusions fomented by the torment of body and mind. As a radically subjective story without a defined plot, sense of time or pretension to moral instruction, it represents a departure from the canon of 19th century novels, doing away with sentimentality and romanticism and entreating the reader to partake in the frisson, tragedy and comedy of a live wire set loose in the Norwegian port city.