Sunday, August 5, 2012

Rolling Column for Australian Book Review 2000

Back in early 1996, I downloaded The Bare-Bones Guide to HTML from the internet and began, painstakingly, to make my web site. I searched for any Australian electronic literary journals (web-zines) to create links to and found only Gangway – a bi-lingual (German-English) quarterly edited by Sydney-based publisher Gerald Ganglbauer. Gangway continues to publish many Australians alongide European and American writers.
Later, in October 1997, John Tranter started an on-line literary journal called Jacket. Some others have followed since – Gillian Savage’s democratic Ozpoet; overland magazine’s overland express, begun by Dean Kiley as overland extra!, and edited in its current guise, with sound bites, by Anna Hedigan, the mildly new-age The Animist; the more academic Australian Humanities Review begun by Cassandra Pybus, and the associated creative-writing teachers' TEXT. But, graphically, Tranter’s Jacket is pretty much the state-of-the-art. It’s snazzy.
John Tranter has been fascinated by typeface for years, always detailing the particular design-history of fonts used in his printed publications. For a few years now Tranter has also been using one of several freely-available text-randomising computer programs, Brekdown, to collapse and combine texts to make his own prose-pieces and poems. Something like an electronic William Burroughs cut-up, one example is his combination of Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl with a Bobbsey Twins story to make a new work called Howling Twins. His most recent book Different Hands (Folio/FACP) and Vagabond Press pamphlet, Blackout, were produced this way. So it follows that Jacket might reflect these interests in its design and selection of material. (see ‘The Left Hand of Capitalism’ on the Jacket site)
Jacket makes Deleuzian lines of flight within a Euro-American realm - transmitting and collecting buzzy literary signals. It's eclectic. Tranter gathers material from many sources - hard-copy and electronic - transfers them to the site and uploads them into cyber space. He often selects international work from the poets, critics and teachers who participate in discussion lists like the S.U.N.Y. Buffalo-based Poetics list, British poets’ list and the John Kinsella poetryetc list.
The content is lush with contributions from a sweeping range of luminaries, lesser-knowns and soon-to-be-someones. The genres are broad -- essays, reviews, poems, interviews, conference papers and reports, memorials, special issues, literary histories, featured writers, all accompanied by jokey photographic oddities, cartoons and comic-strip panels as well as many original photos of the authors, locations and the Jacket mascot (a pup called 'Tiger') mostly taken by Tranter who is also an experienced photographer.
Apart from the late Martin Johnston and John Forbes (a memorial) and the hoax poet Ern Malley, the special issues feature U.S. poets -- John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, Paul Blackburn, Joanne Kyger, Jack Spicer, and Philip Whalen, British-born Mina Loy and Ecuadorian-American Jorge Carrera Andrade. These features are comprehensive and include critical essays, reviews and interviews as well as writing by the showcased poet.
To give some idea of Jacket's voluminous scope, its index of varying contributors encompasses the respected U.S. critic, Marjorie Perloff, Australian indigenous poet Lionel Fogarty, the editor of the Norton Anthology Postmodern American Poetry Paul Hoover, Victorian visual-poet pete spence, OULIPO member Harry Mathews, renowned German poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger, L=A=N=G= U=A=G=E poet Charles Bernstein, Skanky Possum magazine founder Dale Smith, Ted Berrigan's son Anselm, Japanese poetry expert Leith Morton, Sydney Poets' Union web-master John Bennett, the late-lamented Ed Dorn through to Fast Speaking Woman, American feminist, Anne Waldman and many, many others.
Australians, apart from Johnston, Forbes, an interview with Dorothy Hewett (which first appeared in overland) and the piece on Malley, are represented mainly by new poems and occasional reviews. Just about any contemporary Australian poet of interest is given expression here. The list is too long to even attempt and there are just as many new poems from the U.K. and U.S.A.
If I was to look for an overall tone I’d say Jacket’s style has all the liveliness of a post-modern glossy and is also influenced by the so-called New York School of the late 1950’s to mid-‘60’s mixed with a tinge of Black Mountain and the U.S.A.’s West Coast plus a generous pinch of Sydney.
Tranter solicits the material he publishes and, given the daunting eight A4 printed pages that comprise the Jacket style-guide (a mini-encyclopaedia about web publishing, including a digression on why not to send chain letters via the internet which displays Tranter's skill with mathematics), it would take an intrepid cyber-cadet to send anything uninvited. He includes handy browsing hints for his visitors. Of course, Tranter uses a scanner and so he does receive solicited material (especially graphics) through the post.
Jacket, like most web-zines, is hands-on. Tranter does all the designing and uploading himself. (This is the case with most hard-copy journals these days as well). It is also entirely self-funded (sponsored by the Tranter family business, Australian Literary Management), having had an application for some financial assistance knocked back by the Australia Council in 1997. So contributors remain unpaid, but access is free of charge.
Jacket has been a quarterly for the past three years but now, following the trend of several hard-copy Australian journals it's been cut back to only three issues a year. In the future, Tranter will be producing collaborative issues with SALT, New American Writing and overland.
A chapbook, From the Sublime to the Devious: Writing the Experimental/Local Pacific by the peripatetic academic Rob Wilson, published recently by the Hawai’ian journal Tinfish, appears in the latest issue of Jacket. Wilson’s interesting take on current Pacific-rim writing could well signal a direction for Jacket to explore.
Somewhere in Jacket's small print, John Tranter asks “Is this the future, and is it here already?”

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