80 Great Poems: From Chaucer to now
UNSW Press $34.95 pb, 335 pp, 0868409243
Fancy an editor in this post-whatnot era using the word ‘great’ to describe the poems he publishes. Lord save us! It is almost as though recent decades hadn’t been, and we still wore the mild woolly clothing of the postwar years. But here is the Canberra poet and longtime schoolteacher Geoff Page offering us a high road through poetry in English: a series of touchstones, as our serious uncle Matthew Arnold might have said.
That dismantling of the literary canon, which had seemed so important thirty years ago, has done its job: it has enabled the voices of women writers and of writers from ethnic subcultures to be heard. But now it lingers, rather more as a nuisance than as an opening of the doors. In the absence of some sense of literary canons or main traditions, some awareness that certain works are immensely better than most others, it is damned hard to teach, hard to learn any-thing substantial, because the relevant books are not kept in print, and the relevant anthologies cannot be found: unless the shapelessly huge Norton volumes are called upon, expensively.