Landfall 224 ed. by David Eggleton
(Otago University Press $30)
The secret to putting together a really satisfying literary journal is to make sure you have an editor with catholic tastes at the helm. Happily for Landfall, David Eggleton is that man. With cred in poetry, prose and the visual arts, he's capable of assembling an assortment of excellence right across the board, as number 224 attests.
This issue carries the announcement of the winner of the 2012 Landfall Essay Competition, Reading A Bad Book Is Like Getting Food Poisoning, by Elizabeth Smither. It's a clever rumination sparked by a television item where four men stand around a barbecue with beers while their wives immerse themselves in Fifty Shades Of Grey. "It is better to read than not read, people will say," Smither writes. "It may not be better by a great margin, just fractionally better." You sense the enormous self-restraint entailed that she can be so kind.
The standout piece of short fiction is David Herkt's Brilliant Cliffs, in which Janey Wright, the wife of a failed finance company director (who is also the mistress of his business partner) reflects on the collapse as she hides from the media pack.
It's a beautifully controlled story: so much of the moral bankruptcy of the class of person in question is summed up by Janey's jaundiced observation that "having money only ever meant having better scenery". Any striking resemblance some of our more dubious company directors is, of course, purely coincidental.
As good, in a different way, is Vivienne Plumb's story using her mother's Victorian "cabin case" with all its clever little compartments as an emblem of the secret lives our parents led before they became parents. And as a special treat, there is a story here (Porirua New Settlers Guide) by the remarkable Lawrence Patchett: read it and see why he's one of the brightest new stars in our literary firmament.
There are a couple of dystopic pieces: Laura Solomon's weirdly compelling and strangely amusing Flock, in which a young woman joins a cult - you wonder whether re-reading this in a few years' time she will wish she had cut the sci-fi mutant strand from the narrative; and Philip Armstrong's Imaginary Waste Management, in which not even the mythical land of Erewhon has proved immune to the environmental calamities of over-consumption.
There are a couple of pieces of good old realism: the predictable but still moving Georgie by Kate Davis; the quirky Heavy Handed by Alex Wild Jesperson.
The poetry ranges from the lyrical to the highly experimental (dissEmily (love n. VI)) by Orchid Tierney and the political (he whatinga, by Vaughan Rapatahana).
There are some lovely lines to take away: "The mother, the aunties/ together on holidays/ terrified by the glorious passage/ of their bodies surviving life" (from Miriam Barr's Becoming; "I remember your dress/ it made you look naked/ dancing with the wind", from L.E. Scott's Capacity of Memory; and the delightful line "let me/ wander lonely as Wordsworth" from C.K. Stead's poetic meditation on the data cloud.
The work of two visual artists - the vividly surreal tableaux of Anita Desoto, the intricate and cerebral panels of Darryn George - are beautifully reproduced. Perhaps the only faint disappointment is that the Landfall Review, tucked at the back in cramped, miniscule font, is in danger of being ghettoised.
But then again, with so much creation to celebrate, there is scarcely time or space these days for reflection.
John McCrystal is a Wellington reviewer.