Sun, Sep 26, 2004 - Page 18 News List

Taiwan is hardly pressed for good writers

A new literary magazine started by a Canadian in Taichung titled 'Pressed' aims to help emerging authors

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Pressed - a Collection of Short Fiction and Poetry, Volume 1
Edited by Jason Tomassini
64 pages
Periodical; Taiwan

This is the first issue of a new literary magazine containing verse and prose written in English by people living in Taiwan. It's published in Taichung and is set to appear twice a year.

I've never been a great fan of literary periodicals. Frequently printed with elegant type and wide margins, they seem to ask for the writing they contain to be considered as something special. Literary magazines convey the feeling that their contents are some species of pure gold already, as if everything in them is framed and put on display to be approached in reverential quiet and a spirit of veneration.

I'm absolutely certain this is not the aim of Jason Tomassini, the Canadian teacher based in Taichung who's the editor of, and driving spirit behind, this new venture. One of his expressed aims is to help emerging writers find publishers and graduate from his pages to being fully-fledged authors of books (though some of his contributors have already done this). Even so, the generous spacing and choice typefaces are present, and this is definitely a "literary" publication. So what, then, is there to say about the contents of this first issue?

I'll begin with the prose. First comes a surreal comic fantasy by Eric Mader, otherwise known as Eric Mader-Lin and author of A Taipei Mutt. It's about a boy who is able to take out his skull and place it on his bed-side table while he sleeps. I found this tale hard to come to terms with. It clearly wasn't a moral fable or allegory of any kind, so what was it? A surreal comedy is clearly the answer, but surrealism always gives rise to the same problem -- it's grotesque, it leaves us uneasy, but what, otherwise, is the point of it? I was left with that question in my mind after reading Mr. Tsao and His Skull.

Next comes Dancing in Phnom Penh, a fine, understated piece of writing about a visit to a museum in Cambodia commemorating Khmer Rouge atrocities. The author, Anastasia Kozak, is described as a Russo-Canadian who's been living in Taiwan for the past year. This item appears to get around the editor's ban on "travel stories, essays or articles." Perhaps its excellence won it a place in spite of this?

Then there's I always said "I love you" in Portuguese, never in English by Ben Andrews, an English teacher on Taiwan's north coast. It's a ghost story about a Taiwanese who has emigrated to Brazil and is an attendant in a museum devoted to the memory of a famous Brazlian star. It contains a fine sentence about the man's relations in Taiwan where he has returned to take back his wife's ashes: "They were friendly of course, he had been one of their own, but the distance between them was pathless."

Nigel Schofield is a British engineer working in Taiwan. His story, The Spirit Lies Waiting, is about the conflicts in the heart of just such an expatriate. One thought it prompts is the strength given to short stories by ironic compression. Schofield's story, though one of the better things in the magazine, could do with something like this kind of dramatic close-up. He has a male protagonist, an anxious wife, and at least two other women who have caught his hero's eye, but the drama of the situation is never brought into sharp focus. Instead, a tunnel collapses and someone is killed -- a tragic enough conclusion, but not one resulting from the tensions already present in the situation.

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