Simon Patton

What do we do, where do we go to get beyond the routines of the self and the paradoxical alienation it produces in both ourselves and in others? Is it possible to break down the shell of separation and deal with others from a perspective that is neither ‘self- or need-observed’? These are the questions that occupy Bruce Beaver in many of the poems in this collection, and one that he traces through an engaging variety of forms and themes.

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Award-winning Western Australian poet Philip Salem is both surprised and delighted by the response to his first novel, Playback. Simon Patton spoke to him recently during a brief visit to Melbourne.

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This collection is an eclectic one. John A. Scott includes translations from Apollinaire, Ovid, John Clare (a translation from prose) and a little-known contemporary French poet by the name of Emmanuel Hocquard, together with a selection of his own work. This at first dauntingly disparate group appears to be united by the myth of Apollo’s son Orpheus in which creativity and the absence of the beloved are inextricably entwined (‘I come here for Eurydice, whose absence / filled my life – and more – could not contain’). Another aspect of this myth important to Scott is represented by Rimbaud’s A Season In Hell, in which spiritual suffering and occult experience are vital elements of artistic creation.

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One of the challenges confronting the writer of poetry is the balancing of public and private modes in an engaging and satisfactory whole. In these three collections the precarious possibilities of balance, of confiding and confronting, are attempted in very different ways.

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Philip Hodgins writes with assurance and he has a fine ear for the rhythms of spoken Australian. This enables him to recreate the ‘tall story’ in poetic form with great facility and yet this very facility is at the same time limiting, since it restricts the writer largely to what has already been said (typically, he devotes seventeen pages in this collection to a poem entitled ‘The Way Things Were’). He becomes a reporter of stories, of histories and jokes rather than an explorer of the literary unknown. At times this leads him to take on not only the form of colloquial bar-room speech but the whole masculine ethos of this language with its prejudices, clichés, and resounding misogyny.

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