ISLAND magazine has been an acute observer of the Tasmanian literary scene for decades. It incorporates local voices with national representation, offering a forum for opinion and a mix of writing styles that come together in a harmonious whole.
Many emerging writers have been encouraged by appearing in Island, while established ones know the respect it holds.
The latest issue underscores Island’s integral place in Australian small literary magazine publishing. To that end, it beggars belief that Arts Tasmania recently ceased Island’s funding. In a strongly worded editorial, editor Sarah Kanowski quotes the reason for that decision: “[Because] Island is competing with publications such as The New Yorker there was limited benefit to the Tasmanian audience of maintaining a magazine just because it is published in Tasmania.”
As an endorsement of Island’s place in our literary discourse, the Australia Council for the Arts has come to the rescue. The council’s literature board chairman Dennis Haskell said: “The literature board does not want to see this important magazine slip from view.”
...Yet in a way the situation at Island typifies small magazine publishing in Australia. Would any of them survive without government funding? Perhaps not, yet their role remains critical to the health of the Australian literary culture, for no other reason than that small magazines sometimes offer an alternative view, let alone opportunities for new writers.
With Island 127, there is plenty to admire. The focus of the issue is an exploration of the “soul” of things. This can be the landscape and especially the deeply divisive issue of forestry in Tasmania, to the soul of poetry in a fine essay by Island poetry editor John Kinsella.
There is a bracing piece by former The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award winner Danielle Wood titled Writing Old and New Tasmania, in which Wood cites the cryptic mantra of many disenchanted young Tasmanians: The Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go. Set alongside this is a profoundly moving piece by Brian Camden on spending time with Gillian Myers as she investigates alternative remedies for her multiple sclerosis. Simply headed For Gillian, Feather, Fire, Bracken and Vomit, it is extraordinarily tender writing.
While Island 127 comes with a sigh of survival, there is no denying that it could easily be seen as the soul of Tasmanian literary discussion: something the Tasmanian government does not see or value as significant. Island is not The New Yorker, and thankfully so.
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