Even at the age of eighty-four it appears that our censors of old possessed a moral clarity that no longer exists. Censorship was carried out by the state as a force of moral purpose, protecting the population from the consequences of reading banned literature: to wit, moral decline and subversion, particularly among the powerless. This was pertinent to children whose innocence entailed a lack of knowledge of moral turpitude and who were seen as particularly vulnerable.
Australian advocates of a harsh line against asylum seekers arriving by boat often base their arguments on a concern for the protection of human life. Unless we deter boat people, so the reasoning goes, ever greater numbers will set out on the dangerous voyage from Indonesia, and more and more lives will be lost at sea. This may sound like a novel position, but, as Andy Lamey makes clear in Frontier Justice: The Global Refugee Crisis and What to Do about It, the argument is well worn. In the early 1990s, Presidents Bush Sr and Clinton used similar justifications to defend a policy of intercepting boats from Haiti and returning them directly to Port au Prince, without making any assessment as to whether those on board might have claims to protection from Haiti’s dictatorial régime.
About a third of the way into Simon Cleary’s Closer to Stone, all of the preceding distinctively phrased metaphors and similes, all of the fragrant, lucid imagery – along with some that is rather less than lucid: how, exactly, does one pick up a drink and take a ‘deep sip’? – begin to meld into a compelling whole. Narrator Bas Adams, scouring the immense unknown of the Sahara Desert in southern Algeria for his brother Jack, who has been absent without notice from duty as a United Nations peacekeeping soldier, has come across the woman who last saw him alive. Sophia, a strong-willed, self-sufficient American schoolteacher, informs Bas that Jack had been undergoing a process of recuperation, though not from any physical ailment: ‘his need,’ she says, ‘was like a wound [...] he was dying inside, and he had the courage to choose another life.’
Although it has been almost half a century since 1968, a year readily mythologised in Australian poetry, the so-called Generation of ’68 are still the most talked-about contemporary poets. There have been few attempts to define the next generations of poets. Forty-three years is a long definition of what might be deemed ‘contemporary’.
Jaya Savige’s first book, latecomers (2005), was an impressive début and won the New South Wales Kenneth Slessor Award for Poetry in 2006. Surface to Air is a more varied, equally impressive, volume. Savige meditates on the poet Tasso’s oak tree (inspired by Peter Porter’s ‘Tasso’s Oak’), a survivor of Hiroshima, the Big Brother television show, and, as this book’s epigraph by W.S. Merwin might predict, the loss of an uncontaminated natural world, or Eden: ‘kneel by the sky-blue bic that nests / in the shallow bowels of an albatross carcass’ (‘Recycling Night’).
The birth of Tom Downs on the banks of the Murray River in South Australia tragically coincided with the death of his mother. His premature arrival – in the breech position – subsequently informs how his life is played out.
What does a young boy make of a father who carries in his pocket a knife that is used to peel fruit, behead chickens, fashion toy flutes, and potentially serves as a weapon to kill his spouse? Two Greeks,the work of third-time novelist John Charalambous, is an engaging study of the power of family and the need for identity. In similar company to Raimond Gaita’s Romulus, My Father and Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap, the novel delves into difficult emotional territory, but does so with humour and humanity. Like its literary cousins, it has the foundations for an insightful filmic adaptation.
Diego Maradona is the greatest football player I have ever seen, but as a coach he sits somewhere between a comic opera and a train wreck. Philip Larkin was one of Britain’s finest poets, but to read his music criticism is to wish someone had heaved his typewriter into the nearest river. Ronald Reagan qualified as an A-grade B-movie actor, yet as president – the biggest acting role on the planet – he proved decidedly C-grade. Switching genres can be tough.
Steve Holden’s début novel puts us inside the head of a transsexual mortician living in a small Tasmanian town. It could be a stifling and lonely place to be, but the nameless protagonist draws us persuasively into her world. As a mortician, her job is to disguise death, but as a storyteller she is able to illuminate it for our benefit.
Poet and novelist Ali Alizadeh’s third book of poetry, Ashes in the Air, reclaims some themes from his earlier poetry collection, Eyes in Times of War (2006). Autobiographical sequences once again interweave with accounts of recent wars and oppression. Alizadeh also explores some ...