October 2006

Arts & Letters

‘Fast, Loose Beginnings: A Memoir of Intoxications’ By John Kinsella

By Chris Womersley

The advance publicity for John Kinsella's memoir - which included restraining orders taken out against fellow poets Robert Adamson and Anthony Lawrence, and threats of defamation suits from that pair - promised an entertaining ride, but it is a promise unfulfilled by this disappointing and baffling work. Reading it is akin to being cornered by a dishevelled fellow at a party who insists on regaling you with stories about his wild and crazy days, involving people you barely know.

Kinsella claims to have been struck by lightning - twice. He tells of being driven around Helsinki by the Finnish secret police, of beatings and of a drug dealer holding a gun to his head. "My defining characteristic ... is enthusiasm," he declares, as if we couldn't tell from the exclamation marks littering the text. Unfortunately, enthusiasm doesn't compensate for lumpy prose and lightweight observations. These adventures are simply not very interesting.

There are encounters with the famous and the highly regarded, but they are merely springboards for stories featuring Kinsella: a meeting with Frieda Plath becomes The Tale of How I Confessed My Drug Overdose to Ted and Sylvia's Daughter; a dinner to honour Dorothy Hewett becomes The Time I Went Drinking with Carmen Lawrence. An exception is the touching image of Les Murray beside a salt plain, "thinking poems" as he bats flies from his back.

Fast, Loose Beginnings is also a memoir of missed opportunities in other ways. Kinsella hints at the challenge which perhaps confronts all artists, that of living in the world and apart from it, but the idea is taken no further; the question of why one should pursue poetry at all, especially with such ferocity and at the expense of everything else, is left unanswered. Towards the end, he admits that he took the commission because he needed the money, and - though he says his feelings changed as he wrote the book - it shows.

There is nowhere quite like The Monthly. We are told that we live in a time of diminished attention spans; a time where the 24-hour-news-cycle has produced a collective desire for hot takes and brief summaries of the news and ideas that effect us. But we don’t believe it. The need for considered, reflective, long-form journalism has never been greater, and for almost 20 years, that’s what The Monthly has offered, from some of our finest writers.

That kind of quality writing costs money, and requires the support of our readers. Your subscription to The Monthly allows us to be the home for the best, most considered, most substantial perspectives on the state of the world. It’s Australia’s only current affairs magazine, an indispensable home for cultural commentary, criticism and reviews, and home to personal and reflective essays that celebrate and elevate our humanity.

The Monthly doesn’t just comment on our culture, our society and our politics: it shapes it. And your subscription makes you part of that.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

From the front page

Osamah Sami with members of his local mosque

In ‘House of Gods’, Sydney’s Muslim community gets to be complicated

Plus, Barnaby Joyce shines in ‘Nemesis’, Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott deliver ‘Bottoms’, and Chloë Sevigny and Molly Ringwald step up for ‘Feud: Capote vs. The Swans’.

U2 performing in the Las Vegas Sphere

Where the feats have no name: ‘U2:UV’ at Sphere

It’s no surprise it took U2 to launch post-stadium rock via a spectacular immersive show within the technical marvel of Las Vegas’s newest venue

Grace Tame running in the 2023 Bruny Island Ultra Marathon

Running out of trouble

How long-distance running changed the life of the former Australian of the Year (and earnt her a record win in an ultramarathon)

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Might as well face it

Lively discussions take place around the country every week on ethical non-monogamy, love addiction and how much sex is too much

In This Issue

Grotesque: After the grand

Recent British TV comedy

The first XI

The best Australian history books

Beyond the cringe

Australian Architecture and the Venice Biennale

The defence of David Hicks

Major Mori and American military justice

More in Arts & Letters

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Pictures of you

The award-winning author kicks off our new fiction series with a story of coming to terms with a troubled father’s obsessions

Jordan Wolfson, ‘Body Sculpture’ (detail), 2023

Call to arms: Jordan Wolfson’s ‘Body Sculpture’

The NGA’s newest acquisition, a controversial American artist’s animatronic steel cube, fuses abstraction with classical figure sculpture

U2 performing in the Las Vegas Sphere

Where the feats have no name: ‘U2:UV’ at Sphere

It’s no surprise it took U2 to launch post-stadium rock via a spectacular immersive show within the technical marvel of Las Vegas’s newest venue

McKenzie Wark

Novel gazing: McKenzie Wark’s ‘Love and Money, Sex and Death’

The expat writer and scholar’s memoir is an inquiry into “what it means to experience the self as both an intimate and a stranger”


More in Noted

Cover of ‘Kids Run the Show’

Delphine de Vigan’s ‘Kids Run the Show’

The French author’s fragmentary novel employs the horror genre to explore anxieties about intimacy, celebrity and our infatuation with life on screens

Still from ‘Boy Swallows Universe’

‘Boy Swallows Universe’

The magical realism in Netflix’s adaptation of Trent Dalton’s bestselling novel derails its tender portrayal of family drama in 1980s Brisbane’s suburban fringe

Cover of ‘Question 7’

Richard Flanagan's ‘Question 7’

A slim volume of big ideas that takes in H.G. Wells, chain reaction, Hiroshima and the author’s near-death experience on the Franklin River

Scene from ‘The Curse’

‘The Curse’

Nathan Fielder directs and co-stars in an erratic comedy about the performative benevolence of a couple creating a social housing reality TV show


Online latest

Osamah Sami with members of his local mosque

In ‘House of Gods’, Sydney’s Muslim community gets to be complicated

Plus, Barnaby Joyce shines in ‘Nemesis’, Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott deliver ‘Bottoms’, and Chloë Sevigny and Molly Ringwald step up for ‘Feud: Capote vs. The Swans’.

International Film Festival Rotterdam highlights

Films from Iran, Ukraine and Bundaberg were deserving winners at this year’s festival

Two women on a train smile and shake hands

‘Expats’ drills down on Hong Kong’s class divide

Plus, Netflix swallows Trent Dalton, Deborah Mailman remains in ‘Total Control’ and ‘Vanderpump Rules’ returns for another season

Image of a man playing music using electronics and the kora (West African harp)

Three overlooked albums of spiritual jazz from 2023

Recent releases by kora player John Haycock, trumpeter Matthew Halsall and 14-piece jazz ensemble Ancient Infinity Orchestra feel like a refuge from reality