David Gilbey

f ourW twenty-two is an initiative of the Booranga Writers’ Centre in Wagga Wagga. This current edition features short stories and poems by (predominantly) Australian writers. Some of these writers are prominent names; others are relatively unknown.

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El Dorado by Dorothy Porter

by
May 2007, no. 291

Dorothy Porter’s verse novels are delicious and distancing, formal, fiery and frenetic. With the possible exception of What a Piece of Work (1999), they get better and better. Early on, El Dorado smacks you in the face and strokes your imagination with a ‘little girl’s / dead hand / … sticking stiffly / up / as if reaching / to grab an angel’s / foot’. Framed by epigraphs from Gilgamesh, Peter Pan and Wallace Stevens, an enigmatic gesture of thanks ‘for the magic snakes’, a stanza from Yeats’s ‘The Stolen Child’ and a prologue invoking the ‘thick alien ice’ of Europa, Porter’s latest verse novel is contextualised with multiple, allusive legendry. This is a work that invokes and reimagines, iconoclastically, various fantasies (Atlantis, Neverland, El Dorado), mythologies (Greek, Roman, Christian) and pop-ular culture fantasists such as Disney, the Beatles, the Flintstones, and literary allusions to Shakespeare, Keats, Donne, Dickinson, Stevenson, Doyle, Carroll, Twain. El Dorado is as much about how fantasy works as it is a fantastic detective narrative.

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Running hot on the national Austlit Discussion Group email waves recently was the question of speaking position and voice for men in contemporary critical discourse. What had occasioned the discussion was ASAL’s annual conference in Canberra, part of which had been a very successful morning at the Australian War Memorial focussing on writing and war (e.g. Alan Gould and Don Charlwood).

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I am enmeshed in criticism. Criticism defines and speaks me. I criticise, therefore I have a job. But criticism is a tricky business. It’s partial, changes from one time/place/person to another (as Jennifer Gribble acknowledges).

I’m not an expert on Janet Frame or Christina Stead (although I’ve included books by each on courses in the past) and my awareness of Peter Goldsworthy’s oeuvre is better but patchy. Like most university lecturers (I suppose), I read more reviews than actual books, although my preference is for the reverse. But with the vision of ABR’s editor as the bejewelled ringmistress conjured up in Gina Mercer’s book, I don my cap and bells, cry ‘Nuncle!’, and off I go into the hurricane.

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There are some pretty ambiguous rats in this collection and most of them are male but ultimately, it’s the writer’s own unease that cumulatively gnaws away at happiness and achievement.

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