Iron Lace

review by Terri-ann White


Iron Lace
Anne Bartlett, Cath Kenneally, Lesley Kinnoch and glen r johns (eds)
University of Adelaide, 1998.


Student creative writing publications are sites of great importance, and should be celebrated as such. They can be the place where writers are first published and therefore can be cited along a career, beyond the memory merely of a department, an institution. Through the goodwill and skills of the editors and coordinators they are an asset to a creative writing program and a contribution to the reputation and sense of the work that is being done in that teaching institution. And, generally, a thrill to each of the writers represented. They are never limited to a departmental readership because the multiple contributors always have families and friends and make sure that the publication is widely sighted.

Iron Lace is an anthology of writing by students from the 1997 Graduate Diploma in Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide. That it has been produced out of the gastronomical capital of Australia, Adelaide is pretty obvious from the contributions: of the nineteen poems and eighteen stories, I think I can only identify one that doesn't involve food; sometimes it's a peripheral thing, but more often a central concern or device. I'm pleased that the annual AAWP conference is being held in Adelaide this year, she thinks, anticipating fine dining pleasures.

A few points are worth explaining at the beginning. This publication marks the first year of a creative writing program at the University of Adelaide as a result of the appointment of Tom Shapcott as Professor of Creative Writing. Judging from the tone of excitement in the preface by Eva Sallis, the year was highly charged and productive and a venture that impacted upon the other business of the English Department valuably. Having just finished reading Kevin Brophy's Creativity, Reviewed in this issue where he argues for creative writing remaining within departments of English and not sequestered out on their own, I am pleased to read Sallis on "the two worlds are each permeated by the other" and how good this new development is.

Creative writing programs in universities are fascinating constructed places: all that opening up into personal voice in spaces that have traditionally eschewed the private, the intimate, the confessed. Not that all writing becomes those whispered secrets: that isn't what I am suggesting. But the observation of many outsiders is that it is an uneasy fit, this valuing of the practice of making literature alongside the critical study of it. For me, it is a perfect marriage. To scrutinise the product of the labour of other writers, to look at the context out of which it is made and received, and to hold it all up to the light of a range of theoretical devices to make sense of the whole enterprise and of ourselves, and to be engaged in a parallel adventure of finding your own voice and material and writing in a supported and charged atmosphere, is a brilliant praxis of theory and action. Workshops can contribute to the accelerated development of a creative writer, move the tentative markings done in the privacy of a dark corner at home into a communication that has been formed through ideas and the crafting of language, opened up to scrutiny and suggestion, and then often submitted for publication.

This means, of course, that some of the writing might not have had as much time to mature as required to be fully realised and successful work. The editors have made their choices based on writing submitted to them, and this means that there has already been two decisions made about the poem or story or fragment. Firstly the writer has been bold enough to hand it over for consideration, and then the editors have chosen it to be included.

What you get with a publication like Iron Lace is the 'usual' range: an amazing collection of voices and writerly decisions - about form, about experimentation, about the dipping of little toes into unknown waters (and sometimes the full immersion of the body - as a dive or a belly flop). What student writers should do best is to take risks and try out some new steps.

Some of these writers, though, while they are enrolled in a diploma course in writing, are already really proven as writers. They have had their own books published as well as work in journals and anthologies. I'm particularly referring to the poets Cath Kenneally and Steve Evans, both well known nationally. Looking at the biographical notes gave me a wonderful sense of just how charged and lively the year must have been from the wealth of experiences the writers have brought with them to their university course. It serves as a place of consolidation, then, and a chance to push things.

And back to that idea of writing not quite matured enough, yet. Some of the works are a little too descriptive, a little stiff: they haven't had the chance to be stretched as far as they might, to take on another life, to fulfil their potentiality. But that is the package deal involved in any anthology. You sample it, for what you like and what you don't, what you see could be done better. At my university, we use our biennial student publications as texts, so that the following intake of students is reading work produced last year and the year before. This engenders a good sense of generosity as well as an entry into the world of what is possible in a semester-long workshop routine that includes making work for assessment.

Iron Lace is, hopefully, the first of a series of publications that will continue and thrive; a student initiative, led and run by students. We should congratulate them for that.


Terri-ann White lectures in Creative Writing at the Univesity of Western Australia


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Vol 2 No 2 October 1998
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Tess Brady