'I See, I See' by Fury

Image of the author

He doesn’t notice his eyes wandering across my body. He pauses on my sharp jawline, catching a glimpse of stubble so golden blonde you can only see it when sunlight hits it. His eyes travel down towards my breasts and then back up to my face.

Before I look at him in the eye, I take him in: his white face, his short cropped hair and the sunnies dangling from the buttonhole in his shirt. For a moment he holds my gaze, confused and hungry.

He waits for something to give it away – my voice, my posture, my expression. I look back. Am I the Minotaur to him – hairy and horned, muscular and violent?

~~~

In The Oppositional Gaze, bell hooks writes:

I remember being punished as a child for staring, for those hard intense direct looks children would give grown ups [...] Imagine the terror felt by the child who has come to understand through repeated punishments that one’s gaze can be dangerous. The child who has learned so well to look the other way when necessary. Yet, when punished, the child is told by parents “Look at me when I talk to you.” Only, the child is afraid to look.

Growing up, I knew I’d really done it when my mother would stop mid-sentence, leave the house and slam the door behind her. She’d be gone anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours. Then she’d come back, take her seat in the lounge and summon me from wherever I had been hiding. I would sit down across from her and she would light up a cigarette and stare; her lips razor thin, her hands working ritualistically back and forth, ferrying the cigarette to her mouth. Smoke curling out of her nose.

Wilful, I would stare back; petulant, defiant, defensive, terrified. As insolent as I was, the act of looking back burned, every time.

~~~

For a woman to look back at a man – to hold the gaze of a man who is looking at her – it is both a challenge and an act of shaming. It demands of him the question: who are you to look at me?

On a train home one night, a man began to watch me. It was a type of watching that, by design, was supposed to fuck with me, to put me in my place. Slumped comfortably in his seat, arms crossed and legs spread, he looked at me like this was a theatre – like he’d payed for me to perform and he was here to get his dollar’s worth; he was the type who would write a bad review, no matter what you did.

I looked back at him, something that usually works to shame someone who looks, but he didn’t turn away. I held his gaze as long as I could before my anxiety consumed me like a wave. I went into my backpack, pulled out my sketchpad, and began drawing him openly. Caught in my gaze, he looked away. Unsatisfied and furious, I kept sketching. He shifted in his seat. He began glancing at me furtively. By the next stop, he got off the train.

~~~
I learnt the power of watching people from my mother. She would surreptitiously snap photos of people at the beach swimming, leaping over the waves or picking up shells. The terror of her being caught doing this always consumed me, but I was equally appalled by the prospect of her subjects’ discomfort with the knowledge that they were being watched.

Growing into my own artistic practice, I now realise that creating work from people on the street; of sketching them, of painting them; is one that is incredibly common. This is not just among my peers, who have readily confessed to sketching people in public as I do, but one look at the work of Adrian Tomine, for instance, and it’s impossible to imagine a world where he, too, is not snatching glances at the people around him.

To paraphrase bell hooks, critical black female spectatorship emerges as a site of resistance only when there is push back against the imposition of dominant ways of knowing and looking – when there is participation in a broad range of looking relations by contesting, resisting, and inventing our own gaze. This resistance comes from being conscious in the act of looking.

When that man watched me on the train, he was making explicit for both of us the act of his looking. I was the object to his subject. When I returned the gaze by sketching him, the subject-object relationship was not reversed, necessarily, but matched. Through my gaze as an artist, I was enforcing my agency as a human and asserting my reality as the centre of my own existence outside of his. Like Medusa, I was capturing him, turning him into stone.

~~~

The phrase is ‘to take a look’ because there is an act of taking. Whenever I have been caught looking at a subject I am sketching, I am wholly aware of the power exchange that happens.

Foucault, in adapting Bentham’s concept of the Panopticon – a disciplinary institution in which inmates are under constant surveillance, unable to tell when they are being watched and, as such, behave as though they are being watched at all times – expanded the implications of what the feeling of being watched does to us to our concept of society and to the ways we behave in public:

“He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; becomes the principle of his own subjection.”

In other words, to know you are being watched catapults you into a space of hypervisibility. The person who is watching you becomes a stand-in for the whole of society.

That feeling of being watched, if it is constant, means that you eventually police yourself; you become aware of your actions and any subsequent fallout that you may incur from them. You ‘watch yourself’ – a saying that my mother would give me if I was trying her patience.

~~~

A woman passes me at reception and waggles her eyebrows at me, telling me I’m handsome. On her way back out she catches sight of my curving chest and calls me beautiful, then handsome, boy then girl. Flustered, she has accidentally queered herself on me. I am now the object of upset, the thing she is attracted to and the thing that troubles attraction.

By virtue of my existence alone she has revealed herself to me and to herself. In a spiralling fashion, she is surprised by my body, then by her attraction to me. She suddenly must contend with whatever that surprise might say about her. Finally, like a gymnast nailing a complex finish, she realises that her surprise can be read on her face and she finishes with a cocktail of embarrassment and shame.

As a result, she oscillates between being apologetic and flustered before she hurries out the door. Women who queer themselves on me almost always go through this spiral of confusion and self revelation. They are ashamed to be attracted to me, so I, by proxy, am an object of troubled attraction.

Having my gender bend and shift through time, a look – and my relationship to looking – bends and shifts with it. Unlike this instance, most interactions yield no clear indication on which side of the gender-fence I am being placed. The absence of this crucial information puts me constantly at a disadvantage as, perhaps without being aware of it, all our interactions are contextualised by gender. For instance, where sustained eye contact from a man used to be most often about sex, it is now more likely to be in relation to violence.

~~~

It is late Saturday morning and I am on my way to town. The train is busy, but not packed. A man takes the seat next to me. I feel the hairs of my leg stroke gently against his. I feel his body stiffen next to me and he shifts minutely away from me in his seat. He gets up and waits at the door for the next stop. He makes a point to stare at me. I can see him through my sunglasses, out of the corner of my eye. A look from me would acknowledge this infinitesimally small, sexually laden communication. A look from me would almost certainly end in a fist to the face.

If only I looked how I used to. I miss that desirability capital that I had, if only to manoeuvre around the relentless demands of men.

~~~

To both men and women, I am a chimera, a gender hybrid, a technological leap, a freakish monstrosity. People look at me for longer and with very little shame now. I am a thing, to them; a puzzle they happened across that they use to keep their mind busy on the way to work. These days, when I catch them, neither men nor women look away. They stare like they’re in a stupor, slack jawed and hazy eyed. I pass them on the street and feel their eyes on me, that familiar burning as their gaze slips down my body and back up again. I will sometimes beat them away with my eyes twice, three times as they creep back for seconds and thirds.

Who are you to look at me? Who are you to look at me?

When women look, I feel isolated by their hostility. As I am, I am ostracised from the sisterhood. Before, when a man was stepping into our space or leaving his bags all over the seats, we would catch each other’s eyes and roll our own in a quiet solidarity. If I saw a girl or woman uneasy, I could signal to her with a look, asking if she wanted help and she would feel comfortable signalling back yes or no. Now, these interactions are grenades. To exist in this body is like to have all the passwords to a kingdom I am no longer welcome in.

It is strange to acknowledge it, but I could feel these shifts in the interactions as my shoulders stretched out and my jawline widened. They started noticing the thick, fine hair on my legs, my shaped, elegant nails. They noticed the light makeup and the product in my hair that keeps it swept back. They noticed the middle-aged-lesbian Birkenstocks and the frat boy chinos on my neither-of-those-things body.

Knowing what I do, when women look at me and I look back hard, I find it fraught. I know how I straddle the fence of man and woman. When I look back at women, it’s never a clear-cut. The linear line between underdog and overlord is corrupted. They have power over me, but they don’t know that. If they think I am a man, then I am that man on the train. I am threatening. If they read me as freak, then the power they hold won’t feel like power to them as they will fear me. They’ve unwittingly cast me as ‘the monster’ and my disgust at this role will only ever be interpreted as aggression.

Because of this, I am in a no-win situation. By not pushing back against the people who look at me, I feel complicit in my own victimisation.

~~~

My body is a site of constant mourning. Under a stranger's eyes, it is the site where my womanhood dies and my manhood miscarries. In the eyes of others, I am offered only narratives of the monster.

Coming into my gender transition felt like experiencing a siren song. The rocks were jutting out in the surf, sharp and apparent to everyone but I was compelled forward despite myself. I find myself still swimming forward, still chasing that song. No one knows really if there is something inherent in gender. We only know that – cis and trans people alike – there is something overwhelming and compulsive drawing us to the things we are. Being non-binary in one’s person feels like that satisfaction you feel when unravelling a jumper by pulling on a stray thread. Being non-binary in body feels like I am everything and nothing to the world. A god of body and gender, and a monster of the highest decree. I stand between strangers and they look at me, skittish, unsure, defensive and afraid. They see something in me, but they are not sure what. They want to touch my face and they are terrified of doing so.

It is clear, now. I am the Sphinx.


From the Collection 'Men Who Look at Me' by Fury


Fury is a despicable changeling creature birthed from the sulphur swamps of greater New Zealand, currently inhabiting the desolate desert landscapes of Melbourne’s CBD. It is not advised to read their guileful work as their words encourage restless sleep.

‘Keep Your Eyes on the Prize: Unpublished Manuscript Competitions and You’, by Martin Shaw

It’s a commonplace to say that the path to book publication in Australia for most emerging writers is not just a long one, but also often quite opaque and mysterious. Sure, there are writing courses to finesse your craft, and a number of fine journals, magazines and websites to write for and build up some publication history. But what do you do with that book-length manuscript that you’ve been working diligently on? Are you feeling that it might actually be ready for submission? 

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By Numbers: The Australian Prison System

'By Numbers' is a recurring feature that appears in our print magazine – where we use numbers in a snapshot way to try and reveal the true breadth and depth of an issue. This ‘By Numbers' on the Australian Prison System, using the most recent data available at that time, was originally published in March 2017 in Issue 33 of our print magazine.



Number of adult prisoners nationwide: 38,845
Of female prisoners: 3,094
Percentage by which Indigenous women are more likely to be incarcerated than non-Indigenous women: 21.6%
Number of Australian Prisons: 101
Year Borallon Correction Centre, the first private prison in Australia, opened in Queensland: 1990
Increase in Australia’s prison population since 1990: 171.5%
Number of privately owned and operated prisons run by private contractors (the GEO Group, G4S, Serco) today: 9
Percentage of prisoners in private prisons: 18.5% (the highest per capita in the world)
Penalty fee set by NSW government for prison operators following a death in custody: $100,000
Average daily cost of incarcerating a prisoner: $224
Annual net operating expenditure on corrective services nationwide: $3.7 billion
Percentage of adult prisoners who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander: 27%
Of offenders in juvenile detention: 59%
Percentage of adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders within the total population of Australia: 2%
Percentage of prisoners previously incarcerated: 50%
Of Indigenous prisoners: 76%
Australian prison population awaiting sentence: 1/3
Number of prisoner deaths from unnatural causes in 2015: 17
Of Indigenous prisoners: 4
Estimated number of deaths since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody: 340
Proportion of prison entrants whose highest year of completed schooling was below Year 10: 32%
Of Indigenous prison entrants: 40%
Percentage of eligible prisoners participating in education and training courses: 31.6% Number of full-time teachers’ jobs cut from NSW jails in 2016: 132
The number of escapes from secure prisons: 3
Proportion of prison entrants who were unemployed in the month prior to imprisonment: 48%
Who were homeless: 25%
Proportion of prison entrants who had one or more of their parents/carers imprisoned while they were a child: 17%
Of Indigenous prison entrants: 26%
Proportion of prison entrants who have children who depend on them for their basic needs: 46%
Who have been told by a medical practitioner that they have a mental health disorder, including drug and alcohol abuse: 49%
Who have ever intentionally harmed themselves: 23%
Who, in the last 12 months, consulted with a medical professional while imprisoned: 57%
Who needed to consult with a health professional while imprisoned but did not: 15%
Who, on release, have a referral or appointment to see a health professional: 50%



Sources: The Australian Bureau of Statistics ‘Prisoners In Australia, 2016’ report; the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s ‘The Health of Australia’s prisoners 2015’; Chapter 8 of the Australian Government Productivity Commission’s ‘Report on Government Services 2016’; The Guardian’s reports on Ms Dhu’s inquest; ‘Schedule 8: Key Performance Indicators and Performance Linked Fee’ of Corrective Services NSW’s contracts for working with CSWNSW; Right Now, ‘Private Prisons in Australia: Our 20 year trial’; ABC News ‘NSW teachers rally outside Parliament over cuts to jail jobs’.


The final report of the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory was handed down last Friday, 17 November.

‘The Moment You Think the Thought, the Thought Is Gone: A Review of A.S. Patrić’s “Atlantic Black”’, by Joshua Pomare

Gulls wheeled and leaned against the breeze. Burly gumbooted men spruiked fresh salmon and whole-wheat pies, their voices rising over the acoustic guitar and the bustle of the heaving crowds. My weekend in Hobart was spent on or near the water. I had just finished Atlantic Black and was still freighting the haunting final scene in my mind like the weight of the sea. At the airport, my return flight was delayed. And as these things go, it started off as minutes, then half an hour had passed, and soon enough that melancholic bing-bong heralded another change in departure time: the flight was pushed back four hours. 

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Excerpt: 'PWIP' by Shirley Le


The guest speaker was tanned and had wide shoulders that strained at the seams of his navy suit. He reminded me of Brad Pitt’s wax figure in Madame Tussauds museum down near Darling Harbour. Back in Year 8, we had a day collecting donations for the Cancer Council. My best friend Tammy and I snuck into the wax museum instead. Tammy pretended to marry Brad Pitt and I pretended to marry Bruce Willis. A thousand people came to our joint wedding at Crystal Palace in Canley Heights. Under the plastic chandeliers, the DJ played ‘Time After Time’ by Cindy Lauper. Bruce and I intertwined our arms and poured whiskey into each other’s mouths while Tammy made out with Brad. A big security guy with skulls tattooed on his neck ambled over. His nametag read ‘Fetu’.

“You Westies are better off staying in school than drooling over movie stars.” His bread loaf hands steered us out into the daylight. If only Fetu could see me in uni now, attending lectures held by Brad Pitt look-alikes.

“Time is money but life isn’t about money. Just be yourself and know what you’re passionate about.” Fake Brad Pitt’s voice echoed along the smooth curve of the auditorium. Each seat was covered in a thick red fabric that tickled the back of my thighs. He wasn’t saying anything new and yet everyone was applauding.

People got up and surged to the front of the room. One girl pushed her way to the lectern and grabbed the mic. She said her name was Kelly Agathocleous and she wanted to thank Brad for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak to us. His name was actually Brad.

I left the lecture and wandered to the food court. While I stood in line, I looked up Brad’s multi-million-dollar juice company on my phone. It was called Better Leaves and the head office was in Surry Hills. I tapped on Employment Opportunities and saw that Better Leaves were also offering five internships for undergrads. All unpaid. I ordered a lasagna with extra cheese and sat on damp grass. My thumb was covered in red sauce when a long shadow was cast over me. It was Carina Tan, a regular HD scorer with posture like a prawn. She had a thin face, thin lips and thin black hair drooping all over her pale collarbones. Without saying a word, Carina licked her index finger and dropped a shiny pamphlet. The sheet of paper spiralled down and one of the corners lodged in the melted cheese of my lasagna before it nestled in my lap. Then she walked off. The golden letters on the pamphlet glowed like brand new coins. “PWIP. Put Women In Power,” I murmured.

Our first meeting was in C5T2, one of the accounting tutorial rooms at Macquarie Uni. There was a bowl of browning guacamole on the table. Carina Tan ripped open a bag of Doritos and put it beside the guac before scuttling away. She sat in the corner, hunched over her notepad – expecting an apocalypse by the looks of it. The rest of us three girls hovered near the food. My fingers nervously pecked at the dip, unsure what would happen if I ingested rotting avocado. Another girl, South Asian with vitiligo around the corners of her mouth and thick hair gathered in a plait that lay against her spine, scooped up a handful of chips and took a seat in the front row. The remaining girl had Paris Hilton’s straight nose and Ray-Bans combing back her long blonde hair. She rolled her eyes at the guac and chips and also sat in the front row. I swirled my fifth chip into the dip and took a seat in the second row. Sitting in front rows is never a good idea. It would be too obvious if you tried to sneak out.

Then a plump girl walked in with the strut of a rooster, chest puffed out, footsteps calm and deliberate. Kelly Agathocleous. President of PWIP.

Up close, Agathocleous had an egg-shaped head with a brown top knot. She was wearing a grey coat that had silver buttons and a furry collar. As she spoke, the freckle on her upper lip barely moved. Something something... “Thanks for coming here.” She stared at my forehead the whole time.

Agathocleous reached into her bag and pulled out a book that she said changed her life. On the cover was a middle-aged woman with a sleek brown bob, pearl earrings and a white cardigan smiling with all her teeth showing. Her knuckles were tucked beneath the left side of her chin. The rest of her body was cropped out and her head rested above the title Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. I wanted to wipe the sweat from my upper lip but my fingers were gritty with Dorito crumbs.

Clutching the open book in her ricotta hands, Agathocleous recited a few lines: “Women hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, by pulling back when we should be leaning in.” Then she exhaled and closed her eyes. My heart beat faster. My hands and legs went all numb. Sheryl was going to save me.

That night, I repeated those lines to myself while I drove over to Tammy’s house in Fairfield to use her wifi. Kyle was squawking to Jackie O on the radio, telling her about a piece of meat that rested between his balls and arsehole. I hit the mute button and wound down the windows of my dad’s old Corolla. The wind pushed back all my hair and I passed the Lansvale Macca’s which had a 2.8-star rating on Google. I promised myself that I was going to be like Sheryl. Powerful and confident. That meant no more sweating and avoiding social situations. I slammed my foot on the accelerator and roared down the Hume Highway. I was going too fast to notice a pothole and went straight over it. The impact lifted me out of my seat. My head hit the ceiling and the seatbelt cut into my collarbones. I was in shock and wanted to pull down the mirror to check whether I was bleeding but the car behind me honked so I pushed the accelerator harder. The front tire became unstuck and I could smell burnt rubber for the rest of the way.


This piece appears in full in The Lifted Brow #35. Get your copy here.

Shirley Le is a Vietnamese-Australian writer from Yagoona. She is a member of Sweatshop: Western Sydney Literacy Movement.

'LAW SCHOOL' audiobook now available!

'LAW SCHOOL' audiobook now available!



Great news! The best news! Law School: Sex and Relationship Advice from Benjamin Law and his Mum Jenny Phang is now available as an audiobook, read by none other than Ben and Jenny themselves. Check it out.



Do you accidentally get turned-on while watching nature documentaries? Are you dating someone whose tattoos are the worst but you’re having the best sex of your life? Are you feeling emasculated because your girlfriend has had more one-night stands than you? Never fear: the world’s first mother-son sex and relationships advice duo is here to save you from yourself.

The longest-running regular column in The Lifted Brow, since 2011 the ‘Law School’ column has been offering stern warnings, enthusiastic encouragement and sage (and not-so-sage) wisdom to desperate lovers and sexual adventurists alike. This collection brings the best of ‘Law School’ out of the shadows of the literary back pages and into an excruciatingly funny and semi-explicit illustrated book of advice you never knew you needed.

Hilarious, rude and surprisingly heart-warming, Law School covers the practical and ethical dilemmas of sex and relationships from two different generational and cultural perspectives. Ben and his mum Jenny challenge the way we think and talk about the intimate, and all in funny, earnest and blunt banter. Their advice will either save your sex and love life, or ruin you forever.




Rantings and ravings about Law School


“Warning: this book contains a back-to-back feast of frank, funny and adorably inappropriate intergenerational wisdom.”
—Tara Moss, author of The Fictional Woman and Speaking Out

Law School is part sex-ed, part life-coaching, part-comedy double act. Benjamin Law and his mother Jenny are not always the most wise (or appropriate) of agony aunts, but they're easily the most honest, heart-warming and unflinchingly hilarious. They are the Margaret and David of romance and sex advice.”
—Lawrence Leung, comedian, writer and creator of Lawrence Leung’s Choose Your Own Adventure television show

Law School is lascivious and literary, simultaneously. Benjamin and Jenny serve up wickedly wise advice on everything from penises resembling long fat rice noodles, to quoting e.e. cummings during a right-red pounding. It is incredibly enlightening and chock-full of sexual epiphanies.”
—Tracey Spicer, newsreader and journalist

“If I’m watching a movie with my Mom and two people start kissing each other for longer than three seconds she’ll yell at me to change the channel. I can’t imagine bringing up the idea of sex to her, much less discussing whether fucking a grapefruit is a good idea during sex. But here comes mother-son duo Jenny Phang and Benjamin Law with their hilarious, honest and endearing relationship. Okay, we get it. You're SOOOO much better than the rest of us. Read their goddamn book already.”
—Ronny Chieng, comedian, actor and senior correspondent for The Daily Show



About Ben and Jenny


Benjamin Law is a Sydney-based TV screenwriter, journalist and newspaper columnist. He is the author of two books, The Family Law (2010) and Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East (2012), both of which have been nominated for Australian Book Industry Awards. The Family Law is now in its fourth reprint, has been translated into French and is now a major SBS TV series.

Jenny Phang was born in Ipoh, Malaysia, and is the mother of five children, including The Lifted Brow writers Michelle and Benjamin Law. She lives on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.


‘Where Do We Dream Ourselves Next? A Review of Darran Anderson’s “Imaginary Cities”’, by Matt Finch

I read most of this book in Brisbane, where I live, with detours to Canberra, which is still the ultimate imaginary city. Burley-Griffin’s dream remains half-realised and curiously underpopulated, the Federal centre as ghost town. Perhaps that makes it the perfect stage for a national politics that becomes increasingly absurd and fantastical, with dystopian detention sites, politicians who don’t know what nationality they are, and a half-hearted grasp at best on what the digital future bodes for us all.

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'I Can’t Stop Crying: My Gender Is Not a Bomb', by Quinn Eades

This series gets harder to write as the weeks tread past me. The pain of the last little while becomes a smear compared with Manus, with another black death in custody, with another lone gunman.

 

I keep doing small things that feel like big things: two weeks ago the sticker on my letterbox; this week going to Hares & Hyenas to buy a rainbow flag which now hangs in Zach and Benji’s window; moving piles of books around to clear surfaces at home; resting in my post-infection fatigue.

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'Take Up and Read' by Anne Boyer

Most books contain at least one terrible thing, though they usually hold many, and some carry inside of them previously unthinkable tragedies, holocausts, decimations, and heartbreaks. To read a book is to acquire the manifest of a ship full of trouble. Books hold perversions and prejudices and are as ample as the law as containers for murder, heresy, and lust.

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'I Should Read Lizard-Novellas' by Caren Beilin

I am sitting on a log in the sun-to-come sun of March, at the end of a short park by my place. I can see the skyline (Philadelphia) and a few men are spotted about and walking by. My nerves are on the fritz, from men. I like this sun, it’s from a time I remember living in Seattle, in the straining sun at the end of a summer. I wanted to be (sitting outside of a cupcake café) a hyper-desirable colander for all of it to strain right into. I did not think as poorly about men at that time. But now I live in the paranoid regime of hating men – when I say “man” I am speaking of him in his domination against conventional woman, as a universal historical subject, artifact, and as a living fossil.

Something happens in the park. A man comes up and says, “I thought, from over there, you were a man.” I read the man trying to figure out what’s wrong with him, economically, and mentally. I think I look struck, reading him like this so spiritedly. He says to me: “Please don’t curse me out,” and ambles off. Now I’m so spiritually reading the park, for any more men. The approaching gender. The veterans who live in their house half a block there. The man on the bench with his dogs, howling with them lovingly. “I thought you were a man” – past tense, thought, because I did flip in the mind into woman, then I was come up to. My eyes are loping everywhere scouring glimpses of any other women, some witnesses. I read any place like that, like a woman but I’m not a woman.

I read how I’m being read, at a bar called Writer’s Block—Henry Millers out at tilts on some of the tables, these terrible, terrible coasters. Overblown. Overwritten. Sexus coaster, and other tomes: My Struggle coaster. Infinite Jest like a horrible dais for a cocktail. The manager of this place says, as I sit there alone waiting for someone (a man), “Seriously you seem like a nice girl; sit down.” What will it mean for me, to be read Girl spontaneously everywhere like this? What a mess. And nice? You experience this – language a prick on experience. A little prick on what you were, and now it’s just gone.

I feel like a lizard. I have felt like one. I want to transition to my lizard-genitality, through clothing. I eye a marigold sheath and a violet vinyl hood. But I would also want the procedures. To get the scale hormone and start living. Coldblood infusions and start living as myself, with a more honest, more obvious, more exclusive and more sexual interest in the desert. At last, but where is the science??

I wasn’t trained in school to read for meaning, because of postmodernism. But all I do is speculate threats. I read men all day. Paranoid reader, a necessitated woman. I need to read men. A man walks with aimlessness too close to my writing log in the park, with his little dog, and I read him defensively, seepingly. I seethe into his whole face. I plunge in his brain and bite him there badly. I’m sad. Is he approaching or walking? Which? I need to know if I need to go and I read to know if this park works. Can I work in a park? I need to read for meaning and ready myself for an actual plot.

A man follows behind on a bike. A book (a lot of the time) is like a man on a slow behind me bike. I have to watch out for the slow behind way it’s all going, the bike in relation and distinction from the moon! Like the Belgian writer Jean-Phillipe Toussaint, who pushes women off of the stage of international literature, and forces them to be waitresses, songstresses, students, strippers, and avid readers in a world of male professors, administrators, and literary writers, in his novella Self-Portrait Abroad.

You have to read what’s wheeling behind you in the putrid eggplant anti-light of any time on earth, it’s the reading I’ve done most. All through school, and now. But I come across a little gasp. A lizard-novella, written in the desert. There is no park. Unica Zürn’s The Trumpets of Jericho, Ananda Devi’s Eve Out of Her Ruins. Desperate. A gasp. A novella, no villa at all. Unluxurious anti-time, no home on earth. A ferocious and brief tactic. Short knife. Clarice Lispector. Stream of Life. Steven Dunn, his Potted Meat – to say it – quick – before the manager commands. Sit down. You’re nice. I thought you were a man, but you are not. It has to be so quick, a wristness, to write before you’re read. Then it’s over.

Marguerite Duras’ The Lover.


This is the third in a four-part series called 'How Should A person Read?', edited by Khalid Warsame and published in The Lifted Brow #34. You can read part one and part two here and here.
Get your copy here.

Caren Belin is the author of the forthcoming nonfiction SPAIN a novel The University of Pennsylvania, and a collection of short fiction American, Guests, or Us.

‘The Best of The Lifted Brow: Volume Two’ is officially out today


Folks, today's the day! That's right: The Best of The Lifted Brow: Volume Two is now available at bookstores around the country (check out this list of our favourite stockists). You can also buy copies online from Readings or Avid Reader or Dymocks, or even direct from us. And for the digitally inclined, ebook versions are available here. However you do it, get yer mitts on a copy – and do so fast, as we haven't exactly printed a million of these.

The Best of The Lifted Brow: Volume Two collects the very best fiction, non-fiction and poetry from the last five years of The Lifted Brow magazine. If you're looking for an entry point into our mag and all that we do, you're not going to find a better one than this. Inside you discover work from writers like Fiona Wright, Eileen Myles, Paola Balla, Peter Polites, Ellena Savage, Wayne Macauley, Margo Lanagan, Upulie Divisekera, Darren Hanlon, Danez Smith, and Margaret Atwood.

Check out the full list of contents and contributors and also Amy Gray's wonderful foreword if you haven't already.

Also, great news for folks in Brisbane and Melbourne: we're having two launches to celebrate the release of this special book:

Melbourne's event will be held at Readings Carlton on November 9. The book will be launched by the inimitable Toni Jordan and attendees will be treated to readings by Khalid Warsame, Paola Balla and Zora Sanders.

Brisbane's event will take place in Avid Reader on November 16. Chris Currie will be our distinguished launcher and there will be readings from the book by Sam George-Allen and an actor playing Chris Somerville, plus an emerging writers reading salon programmed by Queensland Writer's Centre.

Join us in welcoming this book into the world! And do please grab yourself and/or a loved one a copy.







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The Best of The Lifted Brow: Volume Two celebrates five more years of the most idiosyncratic literary journal from Australia. The anthology includes essays on queer life, Aboriginal history, and the adult industry, as well as fiction that rewrites the Australian literary canon and poetry from some of the world’s best.

Volume Two  features distinguished names from Australia and the world, and also features the winner of the   inaugural Prize for Experimental Nonfiction, several acclaimed longform essays, plus writing from Brow Books authors Briohny Doyle (The Island Will Sink, 2016) and Shaun Prescott (The Town, 2017).

This book is a perfect entry-point into the most interesting elements of Australia’s current literary culture.  Volume Two is diverse, exciting, and isn’t afraid to ask the hard questions –  an eclectic and significant collection that captures the sharp sense of humour and experimental sensibility for which the magazine is best known.

Volume Two is a follow-up to The Best of The Lifted Brow: Volume One (2013) which collected the best work from the first five years of The Lifted Brow magazine.






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'The Mean Reds: an Ode to Maggie Nelson', by Tanya Vavilova

Red things: buoys, fire trucks, fire hydrants, fire blankets, stop lights, letter boxes emergency signs, power and abort buttons. They are red because you are supposed to notice them – and at first glance. The colour signals danger, demands attention.

 

My hatred is not academic but visceral, producing a distinct physiological reaction – a pounding heart, sweating, shaking and, in extreme cases, fainting. I wish this were an exaggeration, but what would be the point of that?

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'I Can’t Stop Crying: What Happens When We Fall Apart', by Quinn Eades

Recovery is slow and I don’t have the energy to make butter icing. Instead I buy ready made vanilla icing and blue food colouring. The icing is too heavy for the cake, which crumbles itself off into the thick blue. I add hot water to the icing and try dropping one of his feet into the bowl and turning it over and over with a fork. He nearly loses half a foot that way. I pull the bits of foot out and press them against the bottom of his legs until they semi stick. The icing is the same colour as horseshoe crab blood. Robert is collapsing. I take skewers and push them down through his head, along his legs, across his hips. Robert is collapsing. I break three skewers in half and shove them into his back. I text my girlfriend to come now, before he falls apart completely.

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Ellen van Neerven


Ellen van Neerven is a Mununjali poet, author and editor.

For many within Australian literature, she is a sibling, mentor, friend, platformer and tastemaker. Ellen is at the forefront of an Indigenous literary renaissance, and builds for others to follow. Her work, on the page and off, echoes across the very architecture of writing in Australia today and will echo long into the future.

To bring all this resonance into the public eye in the most authentic and sincere way we know, we asked this lot to tell you about Ellen in their own words, as the person and as the creative force.

(Note: the usual contributor fee for an online piece has been donated to the Indigenous Literary Foundation, and TLB has also donated the same amount of money to the ILF, because that organisation is so terrific.)


When I first encountered Ellen van Neerven's work in 2014, I knew immediately I was in lyrical and capable hands. Ellen's short fiction collection Heat and Light was released around the same time as my book Foreign Soil. I'll always be grateful to have had Ellen on the writing trail with me that year, and I feel privileged to have launched Heat and Light in Melbourne. One of my most cherished memories is being named a 'Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Novelist' that year with Ellen, alongside Omar Musa, Michael Mohammed Ahmad, and Alice Pung: writers from diverse backgrounds working powerfully and successfully across multiple genres. Ellen's prose is at once poetic and incisive; both raw and restrained. Ellen's poetry is soulful; unpretentious; complicatedly lean. Ellen's non-fiction is sharp, deeply meditated, and disarming. Of all the talented young writers in Australia, for me it is Ellen who best represents all that Australian literature was, is, and will surely be, in the decades to come.
Maxine Beneba Clarke

(Maxine Beneba Clarke is an Australian writer and slam poet of Afro-Caribbean descent. Her short fiction collection Foreign Soil won the 2013 Victorian Premier's Unpublished Manuscript Award, the 2015 Indie Award for Debut Fiction, and the 2016 ABIA Award for Best Literary Fiction. Her latest poetry collection Carrying The World (Hachette) was released in May 2016, and her memoir The Hate Race (Hachette) was published in August 2016. She writes for the Saturday Paper.)


I stand with Ellen van Neerven, my friend and colleague. As a writer and poet she has contributed to the beauty and value of Australian literature. As an editor she has aided and empowered others in the further development of their work. Further, as an Indigenous woman she has shown grace and strength in the face of the racism inherent in the culture of this country and the daily sexism all women must face.
Claire G. Coleman

(Claire G. Coleman is a Noongar author. Her debut novel Terra Nullius was edited with the assistance of the black&write! project editing team and project senior editor Ellen van Neerven.)


When I opened up Comfort Food I drifted into a variety of worlds. From Coffee in Toronto to West End bars, Ellen has a way with words that is both beguiling and real. But there is one thing that sets her apart from so many other writers and that’s her uncanny ability to see through our flawed country with scary accuracy. In Chips she proclaimed ‘what is happening with the dialogue of this country’ a statement which requires urgent attention in light of recent events.
–Timmah Ball

(Timmah Ball is an emerging Ballardong Noongar writer whose work is influenced by Ellen van Neerven. She has been published in Meanjin, Island, Westerly and The Lifted Brow. Ellen has played an integral role in her development offering her advice, support, opportunities and most importantly friendship.)


Before I read Heat and Light, I first heard Ellen in conversation with Tony Birch at Deakin Edge, and was intrigued by this young, quiet woman with the monumental writing voice.

Reading Ellen was a revelation, here were stories laid bare and vulnerable; they stirred so much emotion in me that I was shook. Ellen has a way that solicits confidence in my own voice and story telling. I had the pleasure of being in one of her masterclasses at the Blak & Bright festival and felt nurtured, safe and encouraged. Then I got to enjoy the launch of Comfort Food at Readings Carlton, listen to Tony and Ellen in conversation again and couldn’t wait to sit down with it.

Tony read one of her poems; and it prompted me to keep striving for my own storied and writing dreams, to one day read at Readings myself. Because of Ellen commissioning me to write for The Lifted Brow in 2016, this November I will get to read from one of these stories that Ellen edited ever so kindly and gently, and I get to be where she showed me was possible.

Thanks Sister girl.
Paola Balla

(A Wemba-Wemba and Gunditjmara woman, Paola Balla is an artist, curator and writer who lectures at Moondani Balluk Indigenous Academic Centre, VU where she is a PhD candidate researching Aboriginal women’s art and resistance, and is the inaugural Lisa Bellear Indigenous Research Scholar. Ellen van Neerven is an early supporter of Paola’s work and commissioned a vignette of stories for The Lifted Brow from her which has exposed her work to a broad audience and has led to numerous publication and speaking opportunities. Paola’s work also appears in Etchings Indigenous, Peril Magazine, Weather Stations for Tony Birch and the Victorian Writer.

In 2015, Paola curated Executed in Franklin Street at City Gallery, and in 2016 co-curated Sovereignty at ACCA with Director Max Delany.)


I remember Ellen van Neerven reading aloud her poem, Chips, the one that begins, “white people really bore me sometimes” and I felt anxious and I felt scared and I felt wounded and I also remember thinking, It’s good that I’m feeling anxious and scared and wounded, it’s good that I am feeling not safe, so while the largely senseless and ignorant voices of those young people attacking her on social media have made me furious, I’m also glad that her work has made those students feel pissed off and not safe, art can be many things and do many things and one of the many things that it must keep doing is to disturb us and Ellen writes words that make me breathless at their beauty and she also writes words that make me scared. The white noise on Facebook will disappear back into the vacuum it was shat out of, but please, keep writing the words that make me breathless, keep writing the words that make me scared. Please, keep making us feel unsafe.
Christos Tsolkias

(Christos Tsiolkas is an Australian writer who has learnt about poetry and tennis from Ellen.)


Being lucky enough to be a recipient of the Black & Write program in Brisbane, Ellen started as my teacher and ended up being a wonderful friend. Ellen inspired me to write, to edit, to be greater than I can be, and I’ve seen her gentle-natured way of guiding others to do the same. Her tender temperament and sharp mind are found in all that she writes, and I particularly found traces of her cerebral Ellen-ness quietly dabbed throughout Heat and Light, giving each lucky reader such a unique and significant insight into a mind so great. Because Ellen is magic, and no one else I’ve ever read or met comes close to this, and it’s such a valuable gift to be her friend and just talk to her about the world, because her presence in it makes us remember that there is still magic out there.
Carissa Lee

(Carissa Lee is a young Wemba-Wemba writer and actor based in Narrm (Melbourne). An active member of the First Nations Australia Writing Network (FNAWN), her writing has appeared in Uni Junkee, The Melbourne Writers Festival, The Conversation, Lip Mag, and Book Riot. When she’s not writing or acting, Carissa is also a research assistant at the University of Melbourne, while completing her Master’s Degree in Indigenous Performing Arts.)


I remember the first time I read Ellen van Neerven’s book, Heat and Light, and I was struck by the freshness and the strength of her writing. It was immediately apparent that she was a fearless new Indigenous voice. She has the gift of every great writer – the ability to get to the truth – the authenticity – of the world she writes about. Her following work, Comfort Food, was a further revelation. Her eye for detail, her ability to capture the essence of a moment or the heart of a deeply complex situation are evidence the deftness of her craft. She is so accomplished it is easy to forget that she is so young. I also admire the way her genuine love of her culture permeates throughout her work. Over the last two years I have worked with and interviewed Ellen on several occasions and I have always been struck by her gentleness, generosity and wisdom. She is a beautiful, wise soul.
Larissa Behrendt

(Larissa Behrendt is Chair of Indigenous Research at the University of Technology Sydney. She is a writer and filmmaker and the host of Speaking Out on ABC Radio.)


I’ll keep it short and sweet: Ellen is the brightest star in my generation of authors. She’s a brilliant writer and poet who has that rarest combination of talent, dedication, and kindness. She is unfailingly generous with her time and her knowledge, the former of which is limited and the latter expansive. I’m truly grateful to have her as a peer and a friend.
Omar Sakr

(Omar Sakr is an Arab Australian poet who met Ellen nearly three years ago through the Sweatshop collective at a writers’ dinner in Bankstown. They watched a soccer match after and have been friends ever since.)


Comfort Food and Heat and Light are extraordinary collections, a reflection of an extraordinary writer & poet. Ellen’s gentle and caring personality belies a fierce intellect – a gifted & powerful poet, writer, editor & thinker. Someone who deeply cares and builds platforms for others. Someone whose belief in one’s work, caries it over from the shadow into sunlight. Someone whose gentle words can soothe that nagging writer self-doubt. I’ve just finished working with her on a story for The Brow’s “The Feeder’s Digest”. I was so honoured with her invitation, it was an opportunity to deepen a friendship, an opportunity to know my writing better – a mirror that only an editor with incredible skill is able to gift a writer.

While words can hurt, words can also heal, and I hope that this amazing tribute sends powerful ripples that shines a light on how extraordinary Ellen van Neerven is.
Lian Low

(Lian Low writes across performance text and creative non-fiction. From 2009-2016, Lian undertook various editorial and board member roles with Asian Australian arts and culture online magazine Peril.)


Ellen and I were together in the Writers Immersion and Cultural Exchange program (WrICE) in the Philippines and then in Australia, along with ten other writers from around Asia and the Pacific. I had the privilege of listening to her speak not only of her creative process and of writing issues, but also of social issues that matter to her as an advocate, as a citizen. I was struck by how she interweaves these concerns seamlessly, and can see how this interweaving manifests artfully in her writing, in the way she interacts with the other writers. At this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival, during the On Revolution panel, I was deeply moved when, instead of reading her own piece, she chose to use her allotted time instead to read from my essay on living with trauma (as a writer in a country like the Philippines), where it is not so easy at the moment to assert political beliefs and expressions of dissent, while remaining sharp and relevant aesthetically. Her generosity, her profound understanding of the issues that we all share, across borders, has been an inspiration to me.
Daryll Delgado

(Journalist, fictionist, and mango lover, from the Philippines).


Ellen’s work speaks for itself. Wherever I go, it’s checked out of libraries and the last copy in the bookstore has the oiliness of a well-thumbed favourite. I have conversations about contemporary Australian writing sometimes; people tend to find their way to ‘Have you read Heat and Light? Phwoar! Wow, you’ve just. You’ve got to read it. The latest is Comfort Food, and you’ve just gotta. You’ll never read anything like it –'. They’re right, and who can ever tire of talking about it?

Ellen would be excused if this genius made a monster of her, but it never has. Her generosity is unbounded and very humbling. When I talk with poets and writers, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, it’s hard to avoid discussing how much Ellen has directly influenced our work – offering encouragement, abatement, advice, making space and ever urging us on. Ellen is already so much bigger than her works, which are themselves such looming figures on the shelves. She is in the work of others in a way that is never going to be properly unknotted. I have no idea what contemporary Australian literature would look like without Ellen. I suspect it would be hellish, invulnerable and boring.
Alison Whitaker

(Alison Whittaker is a Gomeroi poet and law scholar. She worked with Ellen van Neerven as a black&write! fellow. They first met on a humid night in Brisbane, where they walked around to find pizza and to talk poetry – managing only to do one.)


Praise for Shaun Prescott’s ‘The Town’

It's been almost three months since Brow Books published Shaun Prescott's debut novel The Town. As well as garnering acclaim locally, the novel has generated interest on an international level – culminating in the sale of its world rights to Faber. We thought this would be a good time to look back at some of the nice things people have said about The Town and its author, simply because: we want you to read this book! It's that good.

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