the lifted brow
When I first started interning for John Hunter at Hunter Publishers, he asked if I would like to proofread The Best of the Lifted Brow, a selection of pieces from The Lifted Brow to be published in late 2013. I nodded enthusiastically and said, ‘Yes!!!!!!!!!!’ with exactly that number of exclamation marks. The Lifted Brow has long been one of my favourite Australian literary publications; reading an anthology of their best pieces before anyone else had a chance to was easily the greatest task I’ve ever been set as an intern.
Born in Brisbane in 2007, the Brow is the brainchild of a group of creative writing students with a shared passion for exciting, innovative writing. Like most students, they were short of money. Led by founding editor Ronnie Scott, the Brow crew funded the project with cupcakes:
The first thing we did was send our most attractive editor into Brisbane’s nightclub district with a cellophane-lined basket of home-cooked treats. She’d step out of the shadows when a group of drunks came past and say, in what she’d always called her Red Riding Hood voice, ‘Please sirs. Won’t you help us fund our literary magazine?’ We got a lot of cupcakes thrown at us – don’t worry, not just her – but most importantly they’d paid for them first. (The Best of the Lifted Brow)
This DIY attitude still characterises the Brow. Unlike numerous other literary journals and magazines, the Brow isn’t funded by government art agencies or universities. Since it was launched in 2007 it has been kept afloat by sales, events, and cupcakes. It relies on its readers. ‘It seemed important to do these projects without outside support: we wanted to believe that readers were real,’ Scott explains in the introduction to The Best of the Lifted Brow.
However, as Robyn Annear pointed out in her recent controversial article in The Monthly, ‘depending wholly on sales and subscriptions would seem to be no way for a literary magazine to thrive.’ Surviving on the money raised through sales and cupcakes was feasible in the early days of the Brow. But now The Lifted Brow is a big deal in the literary scene, and one of the few publications that successfully mixes established and emerging writers. And when you’re a big deal you need big money. Sam Cooney, who replaced Scott as editor in 2012, has indicated that the Brow will start seeking external funding through grants and professional partnerships:
We want to be able to pay contributors better, we want to be able to pay something to all the people who make and help run the magazine, we want to be able to launch new projects and experiment with form, and we want to be able to explore all the options to get more eyes on our prize.
Being able to pay contributors a little more will be a welcome development and the team behind the Brow definitely deserve some moolah for their efforts. As an editor of a literary project myself I know how painful and tiring it is wading through the slush pile, corresponding with authors, and churning the goddamn thing out in time. It is a labour of love.
Some arts projects avoid seeking external funding for fear of losing their independence. However, I don’t think the move to more official forms of funding will dampen the energetic, DIY spirit of The Lifted Brow. The mag has always been a little off-beat and a little cheeky. If the Brow took a human form I can see it poking its tongue out at the old established literary publications.
One of the reasons The Lifted Brow stands out on news-stand and in bookstores is its format – newsprint in tabloid size. Unlike other literary publications, the Brow is ephemeral. The paper will tear and yellow. The ink will smudge and run if you happen to get caught in the rain. But there is an advantage to the tabloid format: it prompts a different style of reading. As Sam Cooney suggested in an interview with Stilts recently, ‘issues of the Brow sit on tables and benches and are passed around and shared. Issues of the Brow are folded and tucked into back pockets and slid into bags. Issues of the Brow crackle and flutter and they provoke interaction.’
That last line is great. Crackle and flutter. If Cooney could think of one more verb he would have an excellent Kelloggs-esque campaign on his hands.The words ‘crackle’ and ‘flutter’ definitely capture the energy and spark of the Brow.
Another reason the Brow stands out is its content. Ranging from poetry to comic strips, short stories to memoir, fun television reviews to evocative personal essays, the content is always varied and exciting. Like a lot of literary publications the quality of pieces can be inconsistent. Each issue will have some gems but it will also have a handful of entertaining but puerile bumfodder. I’m being picky though.
The Best of the Lifted Brow brings together some of the publication’s gems. There’s a haunting short story about Harold Holt from Chris Somerville, and a fascinating but also unsettling piece about a man and a chimpanzee by Elspeth Muir. The non-fiction gems include memoir from the Brisbane versions of David Sedaris and Joan Didion (Benjamin Law and Michaela McGuire). There’s also an interesting essay about travelling through America by Cooney. The essay as a genre is a bit tired. It’s often hard to find one that is both informative and enjoyable. Cooney’s piece hits the sweet spot. Some of the best moments tucked away in the footnotes (of which there are many):
For another fun size comparison, have you seen that photo of the world’s tallest woman standing with the world’s smallest man? He’s standing between her legs, or rather, she’s standing over the top of him, and he’s all smiles and gaiety at first glance, but if you look long into his eyes and study his body language, you can see the fear, the real, subterranean fear, like he’s about to be sucked up by the tractor beam of a UGO, or something. (The Best of the Lifted Brow)
The Best of the Lifted Brow would be an excellent place to start if you are new to the publication. But of course nothing beats the crackle and flutter of the bimonthly issues of The Lifted Brow.