Brandl & Schlesinger

The Shorter Poems of Gaius Valerius Catullus by Gaius Valerius Catullus, translated by A.D. Hope

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July–August 2007, no. 293

Gaius Valerius Catullus (c.87–54 BC) may have died young, but his limited output (only 113 poems and some fragments have survived) has immortalised him as a writer of erotic and satiric verse and savage portraits of contemporaries, so frank sometimes that, until recent decades, editions of his work were customarily heavily expurgated. Innumerable poets through the ages have kept his flame burning. Ezra Pound peppers the opening cantos with references to Catullus. Ben Jonson’s famous ‘Come, my Celia’ is a version of Catullus 5.

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When Prince Hamlet cried ‘The play’s the thing’, he was about to use a performance of The Mousetrap to demonstrate a point central to his purpose: he intended to ‘catch the conscience of the king’. Nearly 400 years later, British playwright David Hare endorsed and expanded Hamlet’s utilitarian approach, writing: ‘Indeed, if you want to understand the social history of Britain since the war, then your time will be better spent studying the plays of the period … than by looking at any comparable documentary source.’

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East of Time by Jacob G. Rosenberg

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September 2005, no. 274

Most of a lifetime ago, I read of an exhibit at the Bell Telephone headquarters. It consisted of a box from which, at the turning of a switch, a hand emerged. The hand turned off the switch and returned to its box. If this struck me as sinister, it was because the gambit seemed emblematic of human perversity – of a proneness to self-annulment ...

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The Singing by Stephanie Bishop & The Patron Saint Of Eels by Gregory Day

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August 2005, no. 273

The Singing is the inaugural publication in the Varuna Firsts series, a collaboration between the Varuna Writers’ House and Brandl & Schlesinger. Both should be applauded for bringing a distinctive new voice into Australian writing; not to mention the honour due to the prodigious talent of Stephanie Bishop herself. Bishop has written a haunting novel with a seemingly simple story: love gone awry. A woman runs into an ex-lover on the street (neither protagonist is named), and this meeting throws her back into the story of their past. The two narratives – her solitary life now and the tale, mainly, of the relationship’s end – run in parallel. The novel’s energy, however, is ruminative rather than linear, circling around the nature of their love, pressing at the bruises left by its collapse.

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‘Some meteorites make it to the surface simply because they’re so small that they literally float to the ground. There are thousands of these interplanetary particles in the room you’re in now, stuck to your clothes, in your hair, everywhere.’ This startling piece of information introduces Aileen Kelly’s ‘Notes from the Planet’s Edge’ in her new book, City and Stranger (Five Islands Press, $16.95 pb, 88pp), whose cover features Russell Drysdale’s iconic image of Woman in a Landscape. This bushwoman, then, is stuck with interplanetary particles or, as Kelly puts it, ‘the invisible sift of space’. Drysdale’s woman is transformed from the Australian legend in the dirt-coloured smock, wearing those oddly impractical white shoes, into a figure framed by an immense and moving universe. We look for this in poetry – the breaking of frames, the pleasure of surprise and discovery, and the contest between language and experience.

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By and Large by Chris Wallace-Crabbe

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September 2001, no. 234

Chris Wallace-Crabbe’s new book, By and Large, is, despite its hundred pages, a thinner book than most of his recent volumes. The familiar features are there: a baroque and intense intellectual ambit combined with playfulness; a deep love of the sharp ‘thinginess’ of the world combined with a love of the expressiveness of the words we use to contain it; and, last but far from least, enjoyable phrasemaking. It is just that, in By and Large, the reader’s pleasure seems more attenuated.

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One of the benefits of a Collected is that it places individual poems within the context of the poet’s whole oeuvre, with often dramatic consequences for their interpretation. When Leonie Kramer brought out David Campbell’s Collected Poems in 1989, more than half of the volume was made up of poems written in the last decade of the poet’s life ...

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Many see John Tranter as an important, if slightly peripheral, figure in contemporary Australian poetry. He is well known for his long involvement in the Sydney poetry scene, as well as for his role as an editor, particularly for his editing, with Philip Mead, of the Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry (1991) and, more recently, of the internet poetry journal Jacket.

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The poet John Forbes died suddenly in January 1998. He was not glamorous, but his work was, for reasons that are not immediately apparent. Certainly, he was the most accomplished, along with the immensely learned Martin Johnston, of the young poets who swam into orbit in the 1970s. He was also the writer who most convincingly bridged the gap between a radical art and the relatively conservative, yet difficult, kinds of cultural theory which are expounded in the universities. Such newly collected poems as ‘post-colonial biscuit’, ‘Ode to Cultural Studies’ and ‘Queer Theory’ body forth, in their disembodied way, this concern to be a bridge-maker between academic talk and the melodious realms of poetry.

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It’s been four years since Fay Zwicky’s Selected Poems 1970–1992 was published by the University of Queensland Press in their long-running poetry series with the infamous pencil portrait covers. The Gatekeeper’s Wife is one of two books in a poetry series by a relatively new publisher. The design is reminiscent of the wonderful Cape Editions edited by Nathaniel Tarn in the sixties. Brandl & Schlesinger have established this series with Fay Zwicky and Rhyll McMaster, two of this country’s major poets. They have done well by them with these fine looking books.

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