UWA Publishing

Poetry as the solidifying of memory, poetry as a survivor's sanguine amusement, takes a lifetime. Louise Nicholas relates autobiography through strongly considered moments ...

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'Happiness' may seem like an odd word for the title of a book of poetry, and given the circumstances of Martin Harrison's final years – his illness, the tragic death of his younger Tunisian lover, Nizar Bouheni – the title is rather ironic, but the poems in this posthumous volume are rich, bountiful, full of the same 'worshipful attention', the same sense of ope ...

Geoffrey Bolton has written a fine biography of one of Australia’s eminent sons, one not well recognised or widely remembered. Paul Meernaa Caedwalla Hasluck was born in Western Australia in 1905 and rose to become an accomplished journalist, a historian, public servant and diplomat, a minister of Parliament in the Menzies era, contender and possibly logical successor for prime minister, and governor-general. Each facet of Has-luck’s governmental career displayed a selfless commitment to duty, to the notion of governmental responsibility, as well as considerable achievements in the advancement of both the people of Papua and New Guinea, and policies in the Northern Territory relating to Aboriginal welfare.

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A relatively unusual occurrence until recently, the publication of a plethora of new Australian Aboriginal-authored and/or Aboriginal-themed children’s books has begun transforming the Australian publishing landscape. A number of these books, like Rhoda Lalara and Alfred Lalara’s charmingly evocative Yirruwa Yirrilikenuma-langwa (When We Go Walkabout: Allen & Unwin, $24.99 hb, 32 pp, 9781743314562), are rendered bilingually, in the latter case in Anindilyakwa, the mother tongue of the majority of Groote Eylandt residents, as well as in English.

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Samuel Johnson had some advice for aspiring writers. ‘Read over your compositions,’ he said, ‘and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.’ One imagines the impact of this recommendation on an eighteenth-century student of literature, clutching a page of overblown rhetorical flourishes and faux erudition. Our crimes of vanity in writing are very different now – more likely to take the form of descriptive tours de force of the kind fostered in creative writing classes.

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In her short life (1891–1927), Lesbia Harford wrote hundreds of poems and a novel, took a law degree at the University of Melbourne, had love affairs with both women and men, worked as a machinist in clothing factories, and was active in the anti-conscription movement during World War I and the International Workers of the World (‘the Wobblies’). She was the quintessential modern woman of the early twentieth century.

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Lisa Jacobson’s third book, South in the World, opens with ‘Several Ways to Fall Out of The Sky’, a poem composed of imperatives instructing the reader in the strange art of descent. Jacobson’s poem deliberately invokes Auden’s famous piece of ekphrasis about Brueghel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’, which concerns itself with the relativity of suffering. All tragedies, Auden suggests, are products of perspective: Icarus’s plummeting may be a source of anguish for Daedalus, but is a minor occasion for a passing ploughman. Jacobson challenges this divested notion of witness by engaging in acts of imaginative empathy, stepping beyond the poet’s localised purview into the broader historical sphere.

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There is a long tradition of physicians turned writers, including Chekhov, Keats, Conan Doyle, and Somerset Maugham. More recent doctor–novelists include Alexander McCall Smith, Michael Crichton, and Khaled Hosseini. In Australia, Peter Goldsworthy is probably our most prominent writer–physician, with John Murray and now Paul Komesaroff joining the tradition.

Medicine provides plenty of material for the novelist. As Peter Goldsworthy said in an interview in the Medical Journal of Australia: ‘You can’t write a novel unless you have constant human contact – talking to people, listening to what they say, and studying their character – medicine’s perfect for that.’ A medical practitioner sees diverse people, often in crisis. They watch relationships change, and fail to change. They witness messy storylines being played out in front of them. They confront birth and death, disease and desire.

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A striking feature of this collection of Geoffrey Lehmann’s poetry of fifty-six years is how few loci of interest there are: ancient Rome, a farm in rural New South Wales, parenthood. His characteristic mode seems to be to explore these exhaustively by holding them up to the light and investigating every facet. Wallace Stevens’s ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’ hovers behind these poems as an emblem of their method, and it is no accident that the fifth-last poem is called ‘Thirteen Reviews of the New Babylon Inn’.

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Tim Winton: Critical Essays edited by Lyn McCredden and Nathanael O’Reilly

by
October 2014, no. 365

Sitting, a few years ago, in the audience at a writers’ festival in the south-west of Western Australia, at a panel session hosted by Jennifer Byrne, I was struck by the widespread reaction to one of the panellists announcing that the book she had chosen to discuss was Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet (now securely canonised as an ‘Australian national classic’, as Fiona Morrison’s essay in this volume points out). A ripple of reverential approval went through the auditorium and discreet murmurs of ‘my favourite book’ were exchanged. This response demonstrated the feeling aroused by Winton and his work in a large section of the general reading public, particularly in the West.

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