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John Anderson

It is usually true to say that poetry is difficult and criticism easy. In the present case, I am not sure that this is quite so true. What can any critic sensibly say about the present batch of books which range from Bruce Dawe ‘s Collected Poems 1954–1978, Sometimes Gladness, to reprints of minor colonial verse and includes the gentle nature mysticism of John Anderson’s The Blue Gum Smokes a long Cigar, reverently illustrated by Ned Johnson and produced by Rigmarole of the Hours, and the ambitious regionalism of the two books of Hunter Valley Poets, IV and V, edited by Norman Talbot?

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Most of us know something about John Anderson (1893–1962). He is remembered as a libertarian philosopher who, during his time at the University of Sydney, influenced various individuals and groups, most notably the Sydney ‘Push’. Writers on Sydney’s intellectual tradition tend to locate the Scottish-born Anderson at the epicentre of this universe. Anderson is someone, however, of whom it is true to say that he is more often referred to than read. His major philosophical works were collected, or entombed, in Studies in Empirical Philosophy (1962). Now, as part of his ongoing attempt to resurrect Anderson, Mark Weblin, the John Anderson Research Fellow, has collated, edited and provided a useful introduction to Anderson’s political writings. The volume, as a whole, raises two questions. Firstly, do Anderson’s political views remain of general interest? And secondly, what is the place or legacy of Anderson in contemporary Australian debate?

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