Issue 10
NZ$10 | Reviewed by Thomasin Sleigh

THE RECENT White Fungus is a big box of words. Good words. All arranged well and clearly and in tidy lines for ease of reading. It is great to see this publication reach issue number ten given the difficulties involved in sustaining niche publications in New Zealand. Part of its charm I guess is that White Fungus isn’t that ‘niche’ and actually caters to many tastes – Issue 10 includes poetry, prose, political critique, page works, historical snippets, art criticism and a tasty little run down on the 300BC cynic Diogenes to finish. Like a Greek after dinner mint.

The first article of White Fungus is often the best. This issue starts with a sensationalist story of early zoological collecting in colonial New Zealand. It is a deft account of the intrepid amateur zoologists who trekked around New Zealand in the mid 1800s hunting for remnants of the mythical bird, ‘the moa’. The story has a pleasing arc to it, and is made all the more potent by the almost stereotypical characters described by writer Terry Bag. There is the evil scientist back in England bent on fame and fortune who lies, schemes and belittles his colleagues. To balance the scales there is also the earnest, dedicated zoologist who faithfully retains specimens sent back to him from his son tramping around the wilds of New Zealand. It’s riveting stuff, a science soap opera with interesting conflations of fact, science, colonialist ideology and mythology.

Other highlights include some pointedly grotesque page works by Judy Darragh. Common visual tropes – a black panther, a naked woman, a still life of food – have been coated by the artist in trickles of twinky paint which pool and obscure the images. I was reminded of Dan Arps’ similarly subversive posters in recent shows; suggestive takes on romantic urban signs.

Duncan Sarkies, writer of caustic southern short stories, also makes an appearance with ‘Sewer Rat Debacle’. Sarkies most often writes in the first person in a rough, colloquial, kind of drunken-southern-man persona. At first reading, sometimes this makes me cringe as he seems to fall into the masculine clichés you would expect of this character. However, it’s an almost-but-not-quite scenario, as you get the sense the Sarkies is sort of hyper-aware of his character’s assumed voices and his self-deprecating language skirts around the edges of cliché – or maybe its just that because he hammers right ahead with them, the clichés are rendered useless, or empty or fail to catch on their supposed referents. His story here is funny and immediate, he writes with a driving narrative and deftly creates characters in a couple of lines of dialogue.

One thing I do wonder when flicking through a copy of White Fungus is the publication’s persistent self-referencing. Page work is preceded by ‘White Fungus presents…’ i.e. ‘White Fungus present some work by Andrew McLeod with two stories by Chris Cudby’. Why can’t they just be in the publication without all this unnecessary brand inflation?

Needless to say, there is a lot worth reading in Issue 10, and it is probably best that you pick up a copy instead of reading this hurried review. White Fungus traverses many subjects and interests, so it runs the risk of spreading itself thin. But I guess the point here is that it is dense, the writing is good, and there’s much in here to dip into and take away.