Foreword by Ceridwen Dovey

The poet Meleager is believed to have compiled the earliest known anthology in Greek in the first century BC. He called it Anthologia, which translates as The Garland, since the word is formed from anthos—flower—and the Greek verb legein, meaning to pick or gather. In an introductory poem, he used the metaphor of a garland of flowers to describe his careful selection and arrangement of the poetry of his predecessors, comparing each author to a particular flower.

This anthology you hold in your hands contains individual buds of distinction, picked and woven together or bound into a bunch, fragrances mingling, each set off by the one beside it—so that the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts.

Reading fiction is perhaps one of the few remaining secular paths to transcendence—that elusive state in which the distance between self and universe shrinks, long symbolised in literature and philosophy by a blue flower. Reading fiction allows us to lose all sense of self, while at the same time feeling most peculiarly ourselves. Virginia Woolf—as fervent a reader as she was a writer—believed that ‘the state of reading consists in the complete elimination of the ego’, yet she also understood that reading is an intensely sensory, embodied experience. A book ‘splits us into two parts as we read’. To read is to ‘snuff the strange smells’. She literally sniffed her books as if they were flowers, anticipating the ‘vast fertility of pleasure’ they held for her, the promise of ‘perpetual union’ with another mind.

An often underrated pleasure of being a student in a creative writing program is having unfettered time to read, and being guided for a while on one’s idiosyncratic reading journey by author-teachers of experience. This kind of reading makes better writers, and in the pages that follow is the proof. José Saramago said, when asked about his daily writing ritual, ‘I write two pages. And then I read, and read, and read.’ The brilliant minds at work here already have their distinctive scent signatures, but they have also benefitted from being under the tutelage of some of the best writers in Australia.

Giving flowers is an intimate act, often with an undertow of love or desire, and so too is the act of sharing what one has written with others, to read. The surrealist Georges Bataille undercut the sentimental Victorian symbolism of flowers to remind us of the dual nature of any abstract ideal. ‘Even the most beautiful flowers are spoiled in their centres by hairy sexual organs,’ he wrote. ‘Certain kinds of fat orchids [are] so shady that one is tempted to attribute to them the most troubling of human perversions.’ Flowers and humans are alike, he believed: fragile and glorious, but doomed to wither and rot, to ‘die ridiculously on stems that seemed to carry them to the clouds.’

A warning, then, for anybody expecting this anthology to be simply a pretty bouquet: the blooms of short fiction—stories, plays, screenplays, poems—gathered here are not harmless, and thank goodness for that. Some are fetid or a little poisonous, unafraid of revealing their furry stems or filthy roots. Others are living things of desolate beauty and sadness, preoccupied with death and loss.

If the aim of literature (as the aspiring author in Donald Barthelme’s classic story, ‘Florence Green Is 81’, believes) ‘is the creation of a strange object covered with fur which breaks your heart’—then here is literature, in all its furry, heartbreaking strangeness.

A Xoum Publication.