Women writers seem to feel less bashful than men about presenting the personal in the form of stories and poems without a cover-up. They often take very little trouble in fictionalising situations and sometimes present the straight autobiographical account as history, even though written solely from the narrator's point of view. Sometimes this works grippingly well on paper, while at other times it doesn't. Some would have been good stories to tell orally.
These two anthologies contain beautifully fictionalised life experiences, as well as the autobiographical accounts, some more, some less successful, though all interesting. Both anthologies have profited from sensitive compiling by their editors
Clarissa Stein gathered work by thirty-one European and Australasian-born women, more than half from non-English language backgrounds, to sculpt an anthology on three related themes: Dreams, Seeds and Yarn, each part with a lead story. Other poems and stories were chosen to fit in with these to form a harmonious whole.
The present harvest, from women who write on the fringe of mainstream Australian literature, is at times impressive. Santina Rizzo reveals herself as a fine writer able to combine the whimsical and the metaphysical in two childhood memories: 'Dreams of the Garden' and the wistful 'Colour-blind', about a time when 'Marriage came easily to people'. One would like to see a novel from her hand.
And to find a poem like 'After the Drama' by Jocelyn Ortt-Saeed, who has been living in Lahore for 34 years, takes ones breath away. It has the controlled, deep passion of Persian poetry, ending with a command born from knowing that the inner world has been irretrievably changed:
Turn out the light.
The world is darkness.
Your eye's no longer home.
The centre's out of focus.
I go blind. I go alone.
I suppose one could argue forever whether she should have forgone the perfect rhythm by turning apostrophe 's' into 'is' in lines 3 and 4, but that does not detract from the strong emotion carried forward from earlier stanzas on that very rhythm, with the economy of a deeply etched pain.
Among the frankly autobiographical material, Ursula Antony stands out with a history of parent desertions and the growing child's search for love, resulting in exploitation and abuse, until she discovers that 'Loving myself is the only way to go.' Carolyne Ueda's story 'The Seed' tells lightly and beautifully of the search for a scattered identity by a woman who, in another culture, finds herself 'changing perceptively, even physically', while she follows in the footsteps of a lost mother who found herself in an Indian community. The mood of these stories contrast with work by Dina Amanatides, who writes of sorrow and loss in a more fatalistic framework.
Three stories on ageing, by Marguerite Varday, Danijela Hlis and Jenny Korn, treat aspects of infirmity, loneliness and the mixed pleasures of communal life in a retirement home; topics deserving more comment than they tend to gather in literature.
A personal favourite is 'A Heritage Yarn' by Brigitte Lambert, expressing sentiments and emotions accompanying the carrying on or the passing of women's home crafts, so many of which have been replaced by other women's sweatshop products.
Poetic interludes include many arresting cameos, although too many create atmosphere rather than metaphor and tend to become reportage. Longer poems by Helen Brophy, Brigitte Lambert and Clarissa Stein play more successfully with philosophical ideas, the changing of a tradition and the symbolism of a personal journey. Doris Sharp's 'Love Lyric' and Clarissa Stein's 'Long-Stemmed Rose' are wonderful counterpanes in choice of setting and mood, while Judy Bartosy's 'Japanese Bridge at Giverny' merges observer, place and mood: 'I am the bridge, the water, the sun and sky.'
This series of anthologies could become a springboard for new women writers if the quality of some of the work is anything to go by. But sometimes the European-born writers, despite obvious language skills, still exhibit that uncertainty born of an awareness of the competition. This is evident from long sentences carrying too much punctuation, trying to express complex thoughts or events in one breath. Correctly written descriptions sometimes lapse into unnecessary detail. Often immigrants of less academic backgrounds get more colour out of English because they sometimes stumble on never-used hybrid expressions that make eminent good sense. In the end, good writing is produced by writers who have come to regard the language they are using as a partner with whom to explore the landscape of the mind.