Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 28, 2021

Griffith Review 74: Escape Routes, edited by Ashley Hay

Such an arresting image on the cover of the latest edition of the Griffith Review!  It makes me think immediately of the Challenger tragedy and the risks taken when mere mortals try to escape their earthbound existence…

As editor Ashley Hay says in her introduction to Escape Routes, ‘getting away’ has come to have a loaded ambivalence in our new normal.  This is the blurb from the publisher’s website (where you can buy it and other issues in the archive):

Sometimes, we all need to get away…

Griffith Review 74: Escape Routes plots the course of our daydreams, our transformations and our jailbreaks. It takes us across borders and through open minds to places once out of reach, lighting out for the territory to access new worlds.

Edited by Ashley Hay, Griffith Review 74: Escape Routes features the winners of our Emerging Voices competition – Delcan Fry, Alison Gibbs, Vijay Khurana and Andrew Roff – plus new work from Behrouz Boochani, Madeleine Watts, Kim Scott, Peggy Frew and Beejay Silcox, among many others.

I’ve decided to focus first on the poetry in this edition.  ‘Soap’ by Jodie Lea Martire is a startling set of verses about an artist called Walter Inglis Anderson who apparently escaped from the Mississippi State Insane Asylum in 1939.

i.
hold, he prayed, and
wrenched the sheet into a rope.
heft, and twist.
heft, and twist.
tie a knot when the fear is greatest;
loop when thinking of elegance. (p.25)

He takes some soap and makes art with it against a red brick wall as he slides to the freedom close below.  Do have a look at some of his work at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art and consider the circumstances which led him to make this perilous escape.

***

At Masterclass for Writing Poetry, I discovered what a haibun is via ‘In America 1979’ by New Zealand author and poet Lloyd Jones, (some of whose wonderful novels I have reviewed.)  

One of the most challenging and evocative poetic forms is the haibun, which combines elements of travel writing, haiku, and poetic prose into a wholly unique artform.

It begins like this:

In America, I was no longer who I thought I was: one time in America, I was a white person helping an elderly black woman with her heavy suitcase across the platform. A tall back men holding a Bible bowed his head at me, and said, ‘God bless.’

In America, I was often God blessed —

The rest of the time I got things wrong — ordering a pot roast in East Texas, that was a mistake. (p.39)

Later in the haibun we see a haiku that reminds me of Jones’ novel Hand Me Down World about the plight of a woman refugee…

A limpet unstuck from its
World has nothing left
But providence and chance. (p.40)

***

We see the ugly side of America in Haley Zilberberg’s short poem ‘After three years in Australia’.  While she still calls a cinema a ‘movie theatre’ as she would in her home state of Florida, her sense of belonging in Australia means that now  she can take for granted’ that she can go into movie theatres/without checking for guns.  But oh! how chilling to think that it takes three years for that kind of internalised fear to subside.  I hate the thought of little children going to watch Disney films having that fear in the back of their minds…

***

Written in Burmese and translated into English by the author, ‘The day Khet Thi was tortured to death’ by Ko Ko Thett is another sombre poem.   Khet Thi was a prominent Burmese poet whose disembowelled body was returned to his wife after torture in 2021.

Just like in Akhmatova‘s Russia,
people learned to speak Whisper.
Even in Whisper, they murmured. (p.109)

***

Cate Kennedy, winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Poetry for her collection The Taste of River Water, has penned a riveting piece called ‘The night sky from the surface of Mars’.

all is uncanny: the planet’s surface cold and empty as death,
and the surface of Mars like the ground
in the video games you played
before Xbox, hanging around
with the big machines in some dim arcade
putting coins in and smelling sweat and spilled Coke and Blue Stratos cologne
glad for the darkness,
throat swollen with crying over something at home
and grimly traversing, like a minesweeper, some dystopic nightmare landscape (p.150)

As the pandemic swept across the globe in March 2021, do you remember this? there was the miracle of footage on Facebook, coming to us from unfathomable distance:

the night sky from the surface of Mars
because wonders never cease, and the probe has the capability to scan sky none of us will ever look up and see (p.150)

I think that was the night I broke curfew to walk out onto my street to gaze up at the night sky… a very small escape but it was a wilful breach and could have cost me a hefty fine!

***

‘Frederick the Great’ by Nick Mansfield recalls the future king of Prussia’s doomed escape from his tyrannical father. His best friend, a young officer called Hans Hermann von Katte, was caught with him and Frederick was forced to watch his execution.  He went on to become Frederick II…

Later, Frederick wrote sonatas that are not so bad,
And Immanuel Kant chose his poetry as an excellent example of the aesthetic.
He reformed the bureaucracy along rational lines
And was famed for his military victories
And deft masterstrokes of diplomacy. (p.175)

But he could not escape being haunted by himself, not even with the unreserve of the dying.

***

Peter Skrzynecki’s ‘My mother disliked the sea’ is about a different kind of escape, an effort of the will.

My mother disliked the sea
after we arrived in Australia.  She would say,
‘Four weeks on a ship. Waves. Waves.
that’s all it was… And
the horizon never getting closer. (p.198)

For her the ship was a prison, and once she escaped it, she turned her back on it.

Returning from her day job
She would bring home
seedlings and packets of seeds
from the nursery
to add to the flower garden.
It took me decades to learn
that’s where she belonged —
and she’d reached her horizon
by turning her back on the sea. (p.199)

***

Amongst the fiction offerings, there is Madeleine Watts poignant ‘Unaccompanied Minor, Growing up in between’, which is available online at The Guardian.  There’s also an intriguing short story called ‘Displaced’ by Jessica White (author of Hearing Maud) which shows the way relationships can cage us, necessitating escape every now and again if we are to remain true to ourselves.

There’s lots more in this anthology of course, but this post is too long already!

Editor: Ashley Hay
Cover image: ”Brave’ by Kathrin Longhurst, 2020 (detail)
Title: Griffith Review #74, Escape Routes
Publisher: Griffith University, 2021
ISBN: 97819222212658
Source: review copy courtesy of Griffith Review


Responses

  1. A pleasure as always, Lisa, and definitely not too long a post (I’ve been clicking away at many of your links)! I particularly enjoyed “Soap” and “My Mother Disliked the Sea.”
    Many, many thanks for your link to the Walter Anderson Museum. One of my hobbies is visiting smaller museums (art & history) that are somewhat off the beaten path. I was totally amazed at this one and couldn’t BELIEVE I’d never heard of it; particularly as I’ve lived in New Orleans and am now located well within visiting distance. It’s now on my “must see” list!

    Like

    • Oh, that’s wonderful!
      This happens, I know. Years ago when The Offspring was about eight or nine, I started taking him on weekend trips interstate, to see the tourist attractions in our capital cities. And then I realised I hadn’t taken him to see many of our own.
      Just like my parents. Whenever we moved somewhere new my father would take us to the cultural institutions, but the only one we had visited in my birthplace London was the V&A. I had to wait until I was middle-aged to see the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, the British Museum and Library etc!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve often wondered about how best to review an anthology like this – picking one of the genres is a great way to keep it manageable.

    And I am now very curious about haibun. I did not realise that Basho’s Narrow Road to the Interior was an example of haibun (I duck, duck go’d).
    I’ve been wanting to review my reading of this book for years, but have never found the way in – you may have just opened the gate :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOL I wish I could claim some kind of planning, but really, I just make it up as I go along.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I was offered this for review but I said that I just have such a backlog it would take me months to get to it, which is a shame because it sounds like a great edition. Reviewing anthologies is a challenge – as you clearly know. This is a fun approach, and keeps the post not too long!

    Liked by 1 person


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