Archive

What Dymphna Knew: Manning Clark and Kristallnacht

Brian Matthews
Tuesday, 01 May 2007

Mark McKenna’s analysis of Manning Clark’s Kristallnacht episode (The Monthly, March 2007) – in which he shows that Clark was not in Bonn on Kristallnacht, that he arrived a couple of weeks later, but that in ensuing years he appropriated his fiancée Dymphna’s experience and account and made it his own without any attribution – may be further illuminated, given another dimension, if we look more closely not at Clark, who, as McKenna shows, wasn’t there, but at Dymphna, who was.

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'My mss are destroyed'

Marie-Louise Ayres
Tuesday, 01 May 2007

I can’t let you have my ‘papers’ because I don’t keep any. My mss are destroyed as soon as the books are printed. I put very little into notebooks, don’t keep my friends’ letters … and anything unfinished when I die is to be burnt. The final versions of my books are what I want people to see …

       (Patrick White, reply to Dr George Chandler, Director General, 9 April 1977, National Library of Australia, MS 8469)

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'No Bid' a poem by Chris Edwards

Chris Edwards
Tuesday, 01 May 2007

In the beginning he’d herd people
clocking up the hours in apartments
above and below him but they heard sink
and shower sounds and turned on washing
machines that spurted later while he was
on the job he’d reconsider part one of
his partner’s apparent lack of funding
proposal paperwork a black mark

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It is now thirty years since James McAuley died, and more has been written about him in that time than about any other Australian poet. Poets are not usually of great biographical importance unless they are also caught up in historical and political events, or are a kind of phenomenon like Byron or Rimbaud. McAuley was not a man of action, but he was associated with a number of events which were significant in Australian development and culture; and a large, some would say inordinate, part of his life and energy went into politics and polemics. He became something of a public figure, and, as he himself recognised, the lives of such figures quickly become public property. Any book about him is bound to be of interest.

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For almost half of the twentieth century, train passengers travelling into Sydney from the western suburbs and beyond could observe a large sign, painted in drop-shadow lettering, on the vast blank brick wall of an industrial building facing the tracks between Redfern and Central. It carried the message: TEAGUE’S HAMBURGER ROLLS – WHAT YOU EAT TODAY, WALKS AND TALKS TOMORROW.

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The United Nations’ eighth secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, has just taken over what has been called the world’s worst job. But it is one that attracts fierce, devious and polite competition. Why would anyone seek, for less than $400,000 a year, to be the chief administrative officer of a non-government that cannot govern, a non-corporation that cannot borrow or invest? The UN’s total budget is about the same as the New York City school system, and the secretary-general has to beg 192 national stakeholders for funds even to carry out what they instruct him to do. Who would want to be answerable, as well, to a fifteen-member board, five of whose members use their permanency to frustrate others and advance their own interests, rather than those of the organisation?

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Regardless of debates over Australian cultural identity, the flag and a potential republic, the ‘Green and Gold’ colours of our national sporting teams are recognised worldwide. The Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha), from which these colours are derived, was first proposed as a national flower in the 1880s during the prelude to Federation. However, it was not until the 1988 Bicentenary Celebrations that it was formally declared as Australia’s floral emblem. Why was the wattle chosen for this honour over its main competitor, the spectacular red waratah? And what was the significance of using wattle as a symbol of national unity and mourning in the wake of the 2002 Bali bombings?

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It is rare in Australia for a literary biographer, even one of distinction, to write at book length about her intellectual formation and biographical pursuits. A country so demonstrably forgetful of its best poetry and fiction is unlikely to foster a literature of this burgeoning genre, still emerging from its decorous constraints. Elsewhere, we have Richard Holmes’s seminal Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic biographer (1995) and Leon Edel’s Bloomsbury: A house of lions (1979), but Australian examples are few. So it is good to have Brenda Niall’s lucid account of her gradual transformation from academic to biographer.

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Dominique Hecq and Brian Edwards are well versed in the contingencies of language, roaming in their poetry between experimentation and high tradition – at least in terms of content, if not so much in form. Both target the self-reflexive play of language early in their latest collections: Hecq in her title poem, with ‘words spreading / like couchgrass after summer rains / on my tongue’; Edwards even more demonstrably in ‘Reading Althusser on Marx’, where ‘Standing between objects and meanings / the language: there are only partial truths’.

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The dust jacket describes James Fenton as ‘rightly praised for his own love poetry’. Evidently, Fenton does not demur, because he has found room for six of his own poems when other likely names are represented less generously or not at all. But more of that anon. The introduction begins by quoting Michael Longley: ‘I have believed for a long time … that love poetry is at the core of the enterprise: if poetry is a wheel, then the hub of the wheel is love poetry. Poems which articulate all the other cares and attachments … radiate from the hub like spokes on a wheel.’ Fenton continues: ‘I love you. You love me. I used to love you. You don’t love me. I want to sleep with you. Here we are in bed together. I hate you. You betrayed me. I’ve betrayed you. I want to kill you. Oh no! I have killed you. Such are the simple propositions on which these lyrics elaborate.’

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