Angus and Robertson

I would not lightly mention any writer of fiction in the same breath as John Cheever, who was one of the most remarkable and enjoyable storytellers of our times. I can’t better this short comment which says it all: ‘The Cheever corpus is magical – a mood, a vision, a tingle, all quite unexplainably achieved.’ That is from Newsweek and graces the front cover of The Stories of John Cheever (King Penguin).

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The acknowledgements included in the Preface to this collection name some of the most common places for poetry to be published in Australia, but by chance few of these poems seem to me familiar. That of course makes it more interesting to see them individually; and also makes the whole thing easier to see at large.

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Archipelagoes by Peter Goldsworthy & The Harlots Enter First by Gerard Windsor

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February–March 1983, no. 48

It is comparatively rare for a new writer to bring out his first two collections in the one year, and even more rare that one should be a collection of verse and the other of short stories. Yet this is exactly what Peter Goldsworthy has done. His name will be unfamiliar to many, but those who regularly read literary magazines will have come across his stories and poems before and he will undoubtedly be heard of again.

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Selected Poems by R.A. Simpson & Selected Poems by Vincent Buckley

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November 1982, no. 46

If any volume of Selected Poems must be in part the autobiography of an imagination, it is subject to the vicissitudes and ironies which attend all autobiography. One gazes at it and finds familiar lineaments, but one also finds mobilities and stands made more evident than a more partial acquaintance can show. The very title is a warning that the whole story –whatever that might be – is not to be found here: a ‘Selected Poems’ is the outcome of recurrent options.

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At seventy-one Judah Waten is not just another old soldier who refuses to fade away. Nor is he a man who keeps writing books out of habit. He is a born storyteller who writes when he has something to tell us. And the more he writes, the more powerful and persuasive his fictions become.

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How good to receive Gwen Harwood’s latest book of poems, The Lion’s Bride! Though Harwood seems to be continually active making words for music for Australian composers, a five to seven year interval lies between the appearance of each volume of poems –·here I include the 1975 Selected Poems because it gave us twenty-seven New Poems, including many that caught the imagination of readers and are already well-known: ‘The Blue Pagoda’, ‘At Mornington’, ‘Father and Child’. Selected Poems also included the tragic sonnet ‘Oyster Cove’, which, though we could not know, anticipated courageous series in The Lion’s Bride which mourns and confronts the guilt bequeathed by the black Tasmanian dead.

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Plumb by Maurice Gee & Approaches by Garry Disher

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May 1982, no. 40

In a way, two words suffice for Plumb. Read it. It would be fair to add, ‘Make yourself read it.’ The inexorable, old man’s voice of its narrator George Plumb may irritate you, but before long you will respect his unrelenting and unsparing honesty with himself and his memories, and you will realise that everything he says has its place in this splendidly fashioned novel. At the end, he writes: ‘I thought, I’m ready to die, or live, or understand, or love, or whatever it is. I’m glad of the good I’ve done, and sorry about the bad.’

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Exiles at Home is a fascinating work by a feminist of the 1970s about a group of anti-fascist feminists of the 1920s and 1930s. From it we learn as much about the world view of the author as we do about the politics of its subjects. A serious book, about serious writers, it examines novels for their historical rather than for their literary interest. It offers no real criticism of writing styles, and no comparison with modem feminist authors. Nor is it a book to be read in the hope of rediscovering almost forgotten characters from our literary past.

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What a delight it is to read a collection of contemporary poetry which is not only good but entertaining and capable of arousing emotions – and the delight is intensified because the experience is so rare. Most Australian poets that I have read recently seem to think that the exercise of writing, for example ‘happy days / lost in lust’ justifies them in putting ‘poet’ instead of ‘esq.’ after their names. Geoffrey Lehmann is not one of these. On the strength of his recent book, Nero’s Poems: Translations of the Public and Private Poems of the Emperor Nero, published by Angus and Robertson, it can be seen that Mr Lehmann justly deserves the title ‘poet’, even though, for the duration of the book, we are asked to suspend our belief and attribute the poems to the Emperor Nero himself.

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