Barry Hill

There is probably no book in a poet’s career more important than his or her first Selected Poems. It is here that poets have the opportunity to display the best of their work in all its variety over several decades. Individual collections are a mere step on the way. Collecteds tend to be posthumous and of interest mainly to scholars, reference libraries, and a cluster of devotees.

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Meredith McKinney, our pre-eminent translator of Japanese classics – among them Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book, the poetry of Saigyō Hōshi, the memoirs Essays in Idleness by Yoshida Kenkō, and Kamo no Chōmei’s Hōjōki (Record of the Ten Foot Square Hut) – has delivered another marvel of absorbing, elegant scholarship. Travels with a Writing Brush crosses the country of old Japan, from north to south and from east to west, and is a quintessential travel book. It goes to places, and shows them – except that the latter is not quite true; you would not go to this book to see things objectively so much as to cue to them imaginatively.

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Barry Hill’s collection of essays from the last four decades is commanding and impressive. Few could match his range of subjects: from Tagore to John Berger, Lucian Freud to Christina Stead – all, for the most part, carried off with aplomb. He catches the ‘raw’ edge of Freud’s studio – ‘worksite’ as Hill calls it ...

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Kokoro  by Natsume Soseki, translated by Meredith McKinney

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October 2011, no. 335

Australia is supposed to have a knowing relationship with East Asia, but the embarrassing truth we keep under wraps is that you can count on one hand the number of first-class translators we have produced. There are no doubt complex cultural reasons for this, but it is hard to escape the impression that many academics teaching Chinese and Japanese have not been earning their keep.

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Barry Hill’s latest collection is both delightful and substantive. Australia has a minority tradition of the urbane, exuberant, even bouncy poet – Andrew Sant, Peter Porter. It is a constant in American poetry – early John Hollander, Frederick Feirstein, L. E. Sissman, John Frederick Nims, X.J. Kennedy – with the difference that, as the above examples show, urbanity in the United States would be less romantic and would have rejected romanticism outright, severed, as it were, Ezra Pound’s famous pact with Walt Whitman.

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It seems to be only a couple of years ago that my students declared gender and race to be the ‘hot’ topics in culture. Now, I confidently predict, they will relegate gender (still acknowledging its importance) and reformulate the second term by adding a third: race and its intersection with religion, in its broadest definition.

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The 1967 Referendum, or When the Aborigines Didn’t Get the Vote by Bain Attwood and Andrew Markus with Dale Edwards and Kath Schilling

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November 1997, no. 196

This eccentric, laborious book is designed to correct what most of us think about the 1967 Referendum. The popular belief – the authors call it a myth – is that the Australian people then voted to acknowledge citizenship by giving Aborigines the vote, and that this was a Commonwealth thrust towards, crucial, deeper involvement in Aboriginal affairs.

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The Australian Year looks like the dreaded coffee table book, yet another gloss on the national ‘identity’, backed by Esso, and fit for export only. Certainly, the cover picture of parroty water gives that impression, as do many familiar ones inside, though the main photographer, Peter Solness, does turn in some good homely details as well. Generally, the photographs stand like an avenue of plane trees, their density and hues changing with the seasons of Les Murray’s fully ripened, free-ranging text – which meets the high expectations we might be forgiven for holding when a major Australian poet, a well-versed country boy and populist by persuasion, an erudite and vernacular singer of the old and new, writes a book on a phenomenon as democratically inclusive and resonant as the seasons.

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