Archive

David McCooey reviews 'Taller When Prone' by Les Murray

David McCooey
Thursday, 01 April 2010

It is a critical truism, if not a cliché, that poetry estranges: it makes things strange, so that we can see the world and ourselves afresh. Defamiliarisation, the uncanny, even metaphor, are all fundamental to poetry’s estranging power. Unsurprisingly, madness, vision and love have also long been poetry’s intimates, each involving the radical reformation – or deformation – of ‘normal’ ways of seeing the world. One might describe poetry as surprisingly antisocial, since poets have from ancient times been associated with social isolation, distance or elevation, as well as with madness.

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In October 2009, Shirley Hazzard spoke at the New York launch of the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature. Hazzard read from People in Glass Houses, her early collection of satirical stories about the UN bureaucracy. Her appearance serves to remind Australian readers that Hazzard continues to occupy a defining, if somewhat attenuated, place within the expansive field of what Nicholas Jose described in 2008, on taking up the annual Harvard Chair of Australian Studies, as ‘writing that engage[s] us with the international arena from the Australian perspective’. Jose went on to cite Hazzard’s most recent novel, The Great Fire (2003), as part of ‘a range of material which Americans would not necessarily think of as Australian’.

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Tony Smith reviews 'Blood Moon' by Garry Disher

Tony Smith
Monday, 01 June 2009

It is ‘Schoolies’ Week’, and Waterloo, on the Mornington Peninsula, hosts a crowd of teenagers who, for various reasons, shun more fashionable parties on the Gold Coast. The police try to ensure that the kids practise safe sex and don’t become victims of their own excesses with drugs and alcohol, nor of the ‘toolies’ who scavenge the festival fringes. Liaison officer Constable Pam Murphy, recently transferred to detective duties, has encountered few serious problems but warns her superiors that an impending lunar eclipse could produce ‘the ultimate high’.

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There is only one verse in the Koran that deals with suicide. Its content seems pretty clear: ‘Do not kill yourselves’ (4:29). Of course, the verse has not stopped waves of Muslim suicide bombers in the past twenty-five years. Nor has it stopped a smattering of extremist Muslim clerics from using the Koran to promote or justify suicide missions. Their somewhat contorted reasoning usually goes like this: the Koran promises an afterlife to so-called martyrs who die ‘struggling in the way of God’ (2:154); therefore, those who are killed in Allah’s way are not considered dead but ‘are alive, are provided sustenance from their Lord’ (3:169). Thus, suicide bombers have not transgressed verse 4:29 but are martyrs who have died defending Islam and will live on in the afterlife.

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Patrick Allington reviews 'The Complete Stories' by David Malouf

Patrick Allington
Saturday, 01 December 2007

David Malouf’s The Complete Stories brings together the three and a bit books, spanning twenty-five years, that constitute his forays into shorter fiction: Antipodes (1985), Dream Stuff (2000), and Every Move You Make (2006), along with two stories that accompanied his novella Child’s Play (1982). Given that this is a collection rather than a selection – no stories are cut from the earlier books – the quality ebbs and flows, both from story to story and from book to book. Despite its slight imperfections, The Complete Stories confirms that Malouf is, at his best, a masterful exponent of short fiction.

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From the horror of ‘traumascapes’ – the eponymous subject of Tumarkin’s first book (2005) – to the noble quality we call courage is one of those small steps that equate to giant leaps. Having spent a long time thinking and writing about the devastation caused to particular sites during the harsher episodes of recent history, Tumarkin has moved on to the human sentiments associated with those acts. Courage is not the only one, but because it appears so positive and universal it is a prime subject for interrogation, even deconstruction. (Yes, Maria, I know this is the theory-speak you disdain, but like the language of science, its vocabulary can lead to clarification as well as obfuscation.)

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Until recently, more Australians got their news and information from Channel Nine than from any other single source. For nearly thirty years, what Gerald Stone describes as ‘Kerry Packer’s mighty tv dream machine’ was the dominant force in Australian media and popular culture. Channel Nine was, as its promos used to say, ‘The One’.

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First impressions are unfavourable. The cover is ugly, and too cute: human-headed sheep, male and female, wait motionless for a drought to end while wearing prime ministerial bush-visit hats. We have read Frank Campbell’s rebuke in the Australian: the author Jeanette Hoorn did not know a fox’s tail from a dingo’s. Inside, however, there is a cheering profusion of illustrations, placed in unusually reader-friendly closeness to the relevant discussion, and they include a feast of the best Australian paintings. There are some interesting sources in English eighteenth-century art and, much less familiar, some parallels in German fascist art.

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Rose Lucas reviews 'Event' by Judith Bishop

Rose Lucas
Saturday, 01 December 2007

In her other life, Judith Bishop works as a linguist. A passionate concern with the intricacies of language, with the visceral effect of words on the tongue, aurally, and as they are knitted and unravelled on the page is manifest in her first collection of poems, Event. These poems are deeply immersed both in a complex observation of, and engagement with, the natural world, in particular with the ways in which poetic language can intervene in the world of perception, experience and desire. ‘You have to lean and listen for the heart / behind the shining paint’, Bishop writes in ‘Still Life with Cockles and Shells’, which won the 2006 ABR Poetry Prize and which Dorothy Porter included in The Best Australian Poems 2006. Like the beautiful illusions of the still-life painting, Bishop’s poetry creates an aesthetic surface which mimics the stasis of death and also harbours the ‘flutter in its flank’, the pulse of possibility visible to the attentive reader–observer. Look closely, her poetry exhorts, yield to the currents of language and image, become witness to death and life in intimate and endlessly renewing ‘events’ of struggle and embrace.

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Shirley Walker reviews 'Landscape of Farewell' by Alex Miller

Shirley Walker
Saturday, 01 December 2007

Alex Miller, twice winner of the Miles Franklin Award for Journey to the Stone Country (2003) and The Ancestor Game (1992), is one of our most profound and interesting writers. His latest novel, Landscape of Farewell, tells the story of Max Otto, an aged and disillusioned German professor of history, devastated by the death of his beloved wife. He knows now that he will never write the historical study of massacre that was to have been his crowning achievement. Instead, paralysed by a sense of guilt-by-association – he has good reason to think that his father took part in the atrocities of World War II – he has retreated to a remote and bloodless historical study, that of intellectual upheaval during the twelfth century.

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