The should-be-chuffed-with-themselves folks at The Lifted Brow kindly sent me a copy of Issue 5 to review on SYN. But five minutes is not enough, really, to discuss such an ambitious publication. I’m actually quite embarrassed because I think my review consisted purely of positive, undescriptive adjectives. But that’s the me + radio equation for you. So onward we go.
The Lifted Brow is a strange chimera of a publication. I hesitate to call it a magazine or a book, being in shape more like a book, and in internal presentation/submission selection more like a literary magazine. Not that it matters either way, but I will probably vacillate between the two terms. Its contents are diverse, though not as uncategorisable as the publication itself: on the Brow‘s pages you can find ample examples of non-fiction, fiction and poetry, and for bonus points there’s a play and an attached CD containing a 77-minute long ‘epic rhyming sci-fi audio drama’. I must admit I haven’t listened to it in its entirety. I can’t remember the last time I sat down for 77 minutes, or even 20 minutes, though, so that’s my bad.
The writing is the usual literary magazine mix — not everything will appeal to everyone. While I thought all the material was of a high standard, generally, the most helpful taxonomy for me is the divide between ‘what if’ writing and ‘it is’ writing. What I mean by this is, respectively, writing that comes from an interesting place of curious conjecture but doesn’t quite manage to shake off its excogitated feel; and writing that seamlessly transports me from my own inner life to another already-existing awareness of emotion and event. Literary fiction is difficult to execute, and this isn’t a blanket criticism of the former: not everyone feels the same about style as I do. But when the gentle flutter of my usual literary magazine reading attention settles down intently, I know I’ve found ‘it is’ writing.
For me, there were two shining examples of ‘it is’ fiction writing in the Brow. Chris Currie’s ‘In the Oldest Way’, about a man who has escaped to Ireland to nurse heartbreak, was consummate writing: tense, fragile, perfectly measured. It proves the benefits of practice — Currie wrote a short story every day on his website Furious Horses. Bryce Wolfgang Joiner has two pieces in the magazine, the first of which is an unsettling, unsettled Full-Metal-Jacket style detailing the transition of soldiers to the psychiatric ward. But his second, ‘Chainsaw’, a first-person narrative in a kind of working-class Australian argot, stuck in my throat. Use of vernacular in stories is contentious (see Zora Neale Hurston) but it’s consistent and assured here. ‘Chainsaw’ proposes the violent velocity amounting from the equation of resentment plus misimagination. Further, Joiner invests people on either side of the deforestation controversy with so much humanity that morality looms in the background like a plateau throughout the whole.
There’s some international content, too. Tao Lin and Ellen Kennedy, representing the banal post-nihilist fiction crew, have poetry and a short story in here, lyrical examples of a niche genre I am particularly fond of. The non-fiction is fantastic: I read an article by Tim O’Neil about comics. Really, I did, and I liked it. There’s also a maths column about knots, which I didn’t understand at all. But it comes with a piece of string — cute!
The Brow‘s mindful capacity to stimulate is pretty wonderful. I think it does the literary landscape a favour, picking and choosing as it does premier examples of work by emerging writers from Australia and beyond. Blending the local stuff with international material didn’t bother me at all, because it’s all very good, and if you can increase the market for Australian writing by increasing potential sales areas, you should. Subscribe, submit or buy at The Lifted Brow.