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What we’re reading pt. 20

Down the Hume by Peter Polites

How can it feel like we’ve been waiting so long for something so ahead of its time? There’s been a buzz about Peter Polites, Associate Director of SWEATSHOP and swarthy hero of Western Sydney, for some time now and 2017 looks set to be his year. Polites co-wrote one of Sydney Festival’s most talked about shows, Home Country, that was staged in a multi-level car park in Blacktown, and a matter of weeks later his equally inventive debut novel Down the Hume will be hitting bookstores.

Described by Polites as a ‘queer, Western Sydney noir,’ Down the Hume is the story of Bux, a Greek man who finds himself equally addicted to drug dealer Nice Arms Pete as he is to the painkillers he pushes. Polites’ depiction of life in the working-class migrant suburbs is unrestrained, uninhibited and unlike anything I’ve read before. His characters greet the reader fully formed, their suburban drawl a pitch-perfect rendition of a side of Australian life that is rarely given a platform. Early reviews already compare Polites to Christos Tsiolkas and Luke Davies, and such comparisons are wholly deserved.

– Michaela McGuire, Artistic Director


Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong

There’s a magnetic intimacy to Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds. The collection, which won last year’s Whiting Award for poetry, parses the nuances of Vuong’s overlapping identities: as Vietnamese, as American, as an immigrant, as a queer man, as a son who’s close to his mother, as a son whose father left. The Vietnam War looms large in many of the poems: ‘An American soldier fucked a Vietnamese farmgirl’, he writes. ‘Thus my mother exists. / Thus I exist. Thus no bombs = no family = no me.’

Emotive and emotional, Night Sky with Exit Wounds is full of arresting moments: ‘Ocean, / are you listening? The most beautiful part / of your body is wherever / your mother’s shadow falls,’ he writes in the self-addressed poem ‘Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong’. And later: ‘Don’t be afraid, the gunfire / is only the sound of people / trying to live a little longer / & failing.’ A collection that speaks to the depth and fullness of lived experience in a way that only poetry can.

— Nadia Bailey, Digital Marketing Coordinator