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John Jenkins

John Jenkins (especially in his collaborations with Ken Bolton) is normally thought of as an ‘experimental’ poet, but in Growing up with Mr Menzies he is on more traditional ground. Born in 1949 in Melbourne, Jenkins has created the fictional character Felix Hayes, who was also born in 1949 in Melbourne. In a series of poems, he traces Felix’s life from birth through to early adolescence. Rather neatly, this period of his life fits with the so-called ‘Menzies era’; Robert Menzies returned to power in 1949 and left it (voluntarily) in 1966. It is thus the parallel story of two characters, one large and looming, the other small but getting bigger.

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Eclogues: Newcastle Poetry Prize Anthology 2007 edited by Martin Harrison, John Jenkins and Jan Owen

June 2008, no. 302

The moon rising ‘nicotine-stained and peaceable / into the fingers of the silver trees’, arid land freshly rained on ‘like a dark sticky biscuit’, and a cow’s head like a ‘rounded anvil’: these are images plucked from the winning and highly commended poems of Mark Tredinnick, Barry Hill and Andrew Slattery, respectively, from last year’s Newcastle Poetry Prize. Notice the bucolic theme – these top three poems are all, loosely speaking, narrative poems in pastoral settings. This is partly why this printed anthology of the prize’s shortlist has borrowed its name from the title of Tredinnick’s award-winning poem.

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Nebuchadnezzar by Shelton Lea & Poetileptic by Mal McKimmie

October 2006, no. 285

Nebuchadnezzar is Shelton Lea’s ninth and last book. Sadly, this colourful poet, a well-loved stalwart on the Melbourne reading circuit, died of cancer in May 2006, shortly after its publication.

The book begins by surveying a ‘land of fences and diatribes’ (‘1988’). It describes the inhabitants of Koori streets: ‘old men with no tomorrows / who rock on broken chairs / and stare at a bitumen sea’ (‘fitzroy’). Lea was an advocate for Aboriginal causes, and his poems often celebrate marginalised people who must summon the desire to survive. This burden of grit grounds life in harsh experience, before a remarkable lift-off.s a sort of coda, and satisfyingly resonates to the final page, in this assured début collection.

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ADB replies to Paul Brunton

Dear Editor,

Paul Brunton has written of the quotas used in the selection of subjects for inclusion in the Australian Dictionary of Biography in a review (ABR, February 2006) headed ‘Mysterious quotas’, and in a follow-up letter (ABR, April 2006).

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Subterranean Radio Songs by Joel Deane & Suburban Anatomy by Penelope Layland

February 2006, no. 278

Good writing can take many forms, and I have often wished for a greater mutual appreciation, between poets and journalists, of the fine things with words that both are able to do. Joel Deane and Penelope Layland, former journalists, bring well-honed skills to their first volumes. (Deane is currently the speechwriter for the premier of Victoria, Steve Bracks.) In their work we find much clarity and a strong facility for description. Take, for example, Layland’s ‘Muttonbird Island’: ‘In the dark soil chicks incubate / camouflaged by a silence / they instinctively keep.’ Deane, meanwhile, is flexing his descriptive muscles in ‘Freckle’, a poem about childhood and memories of a long-drowned man: ‘… how, last summer, / when the river bed fell, / they found tissue paper, / once the muscle of a man, / stretched over sunken branches.’

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