Vincent Buckley

Vincent Buckley edited by Chris Wallace-Crabbe & Journey Without Arrival by John McLaren

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July-August 2009, no. 313

Amnesia about writers of the past, even the not too distant past, is one of the besetting ills of our culture. How many readers of poetry under forty have more than a nodding acquaintance with the work of A.D. Hope, Francis Webb, Douglas Stewart or Vincent Buckley? All are fine poets, remembered now (if at all) through a handful of anthology pieces, partly because their published volumes usually disappear from print within a few years. Poets are particularly susceptible to the culture of forgetting, but the malaise extends to novelists and others who have made major contributions to our cultural, political and social life.

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Imagine me, myself, ten years on, a survivor of what is amusingly called ‘retirement’, though it will have been a matter of movement into rather than out of work. Let me, in short, give the four-day forecast; no weatherman will venture on the fifth, even to enforce the kind of superstition I am practising in these lines. Let us say the verbal magic works, and I reach seventy. What can I say now by way of analysing the character which I now confront in the time scale of then, across the years of future toil? Let me speak to that self in tones of restrained intimacy; restrained, because he frightens me a little.

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It is often the case that a well-informed outsider can light on structures, habits of thought and patterns of behaviour which, to the people living them out, are neither perceived nor understood.

           Vincent Buckley, who describes himself as a ‘loving outsider’, has visited Ireland on numerous occasions and lived there for long periods over almost thirty years. If he is an outsider, he is certainly a well-informed one, and no-one reading this book – subtitled ‘Insights into the contemporary Irish condition’ – can doubt that it is a book of love and, by that means, penetration.

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It is a brave thing to publish your Collected Poems in your early fifties, braver when you are an Australian resident in England publishing there, and a loading might be put on for additional hazard when, like Peter Porter, you are poetry editor both for Oxford and for The Observer. For, when it comes to Collected Poems, it is your very influence that makes you vulnerable.

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On his first day at St Patrick’s, East Melbourne, Vincent Buckley was ‘flogged and flogged’ by a Jesuit priest in ‘an incompetent fury’. It is an experience that many of his readers will easily recognise, though their remembered lambastings were more likely to have been incurred at the hands of the Brothers and, unlike Buckley’s, would have been a continuing feature of school life. 

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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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