UWA Publishing

Ann Moyal was born in 1926, so now she is heading towards her ninetieth birthday. She has already launched a work of autobiography into the world, written in her mid-sixties. But her life did not, then, ‘take a quieter turn’. On the contrary, she tells us, ‘I’d continued to spend my ageing life with passion, involvement, and intensity.’

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It may seem strange to begin a review of Paul Carter’s extraordinary poetry collection by quoting the words of another writer, but these lines of Boris Pasternak’s – taken from his essay in The Poet’s Work (1989), a collection of writings by twentieth-century poets on their art – seem particularly pertinent:

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Why does illness create such a marked need for story? Why do we want to read about other people’s illnesses and talk or write about our own? At the most basic level, it is surely because human beings always need stories. Indeed, neuroscientists believe that narrative consciousness is hard-wired into our brains ...

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William Carlos Williams once famously stated, ‘No ideas but in things’, about his poetic method. Rose Lucas, in her first poetry collection, Even in the Dark, takes up the imagist movement’s poetic style but ‘makes it new’ in her examination of the role of the poet in both the local environment and abroad. Her observant and mimetic style shimmers in a collage of confronting still-life portraits. In the opening poem, ‘Heat Wave, Melbourne’, the death of a possum – ‘her young / still alive in the pouch, / squirm and cling / to the dead fur / to each other’ – is juxtaposed with a tragic Darcey-esque West Gate Bridge moment when a father ‘unbuckles his small child / from the back seat / and / then / in the rush / hot / as she falls / through sky and / slick of water –’.

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As I write this article in my Adelaide Hills home, surrounded by native eucalypts and introduced fruit trees, large areas in New South Wales are dealing with the consequences of some of the worst bushfires in recorded history. Remarkably, given the unseasonally extreme weather, the rugged terrain, and the ferocity of the fires themselves, there have been few human casualties. Nevertheless, the cost will be enormous, not only in terms of the physical reconstruction required, but also of the effort required for individuals and families to rebuild lives from the ruins of their destroyed habitations. I live in a bushfire-prone area, in a house that could not be easily defended in the inferno of a firestorm. We have made our plans. We think we know what to do in the face of the fire emergency we hope will never eventuate. But how would we cope in such a situation? In practice, we have no idea.

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Seen through one window, Paul Hetherington’s Six Different Windows appears to be a collection of poems concerned with the death of art. Such a theme is perhaps not surprising given that Hetherington, in addition to his seven books of poems, edited three volumes of Donald Friend’s diaries for the National Library of Australia, the last of which was s ...

As I read the early pages of Anthony Macris’s Great Western Highway, I began to wonder if the whole novel might consist of a single central character walking along a city road (for the record, it doesn’t). I couldn’t decide whether I found such a prospect exciting or deflating. As I continued reading, and as Great Western Highway took flight from Parramatta Road, Sydney, to explore such weighty matters as capitalism, the First Gulf War, and Margaret Thatcher’s legacy, again and again the story captured but then lost my interest.

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From the opening page of this her second collection of stories, Susan Midalia propels her uncertain and wavering female character into an alien environment. Enter the concrete world of Moscow airport, its people who think you are simple if you smile at them, its ‘prowling men straight out of gangster movies’, tension as the blank, unblinking woman at immigration ‘held up a rubber stamp for ten, fifteen seconds, and then thumped it down on the passport. Petra felt her legs untighten.

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The esteemed critic and lecturer Don Anderson once told me that Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past was a book you shouldn’t read until you were over forty. Still in my twenties at the time, hungry for erudition, I was annoyed and set out to read the book, only to put it down even more irritated some time later, thinking, If that boy calls out to his mother one more time, I’ll scream. Reading John Hughes’s début novel, The Remnants, I was reminded of Dr Anderson’s sage remark. There are books that can only be fully appreciated once the first real terror of one’s own mortality has been felt. This is one, and there is much to be savoured in this sharp-minded regeneration of literary tradition and its enquiries into memory, dying, translation, and translocation that I suspect would have sailed straight over my younger head.

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Ladylike by Kate Lilley

by
June 2012, no. 342

Like all good titles, Kate Lilley’s Ladylike offers the reader a coded and evocative entrée into her new collection. These poems are concerned with exposing and critiquing some of the expectations of femininity, of being ladylike, as found in the past and the present, in contemporary cultures such as the cinema and in the discourses of the academy. The idea of ‘liking ladies’ is also central to these poems, as a current of desires that cuts across more conventional notions of the lady. The title also suggests a motif of mirroring, even doubling, where a self is similar to, perhaps even indistinguishable from an ‘other’, and yet is also simultaneously different, a simulacra or sign that can never be the thing in question. It is within this point of slippage – this petticoat slide between an embodiment of femininity and its repetitions or likenesses – that Lilley’s poetry operates, generating a reading experience which can be both vertiginous and full of the rigour of possibilities.

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