Chris Wallace Crabbe

Imagining Australia collects nineteen essays from a 2002 conference on Australian literature and culture at Harvard University. Of course, as the proceedings of a conference, it is on occasion hard work. There is something about conferences – the dedication of their audiences, perhaps, or the vulnerability of their speakers – that encourages a somewhat defensive formality. That said, almost every essay in this collection repays a reader’s investment with interest: in describing the history of Australian literary journals; offering a new direction for Australian pastoral poetry; providing surprising perspectives on popular Australian myths; or looking at how contemporary poets use form.

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By and Large by Chris Wallace-Crabbe

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September 2001, no. 234

Chris Wallace-Crabbe’s new book, By and Large, is, despite its hundred pages, a thinner book than most of his recent volumes. The familiar features are there: a baroque and intense intellectual ambit combined with playfulness; a deep love of the sharp ‘thinginess’ of the world combined with a love of the expressiveness of the words we use to contain it; and, last but far from least, enjoyable phrasemaking. It is just that, in By and Large, the reader’s pleasure seems more attenuated.

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Peter Goldsworthy, doctor and poet, is a writer of significant style and concision. This new selection of his lyric poetry lives up to its jaunty, graffitied, lavender cover; it bespeaks lightness. And lightness is damned hard work. You don’t get there just by smiling and going to book launches ...

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You are going to Singapore, they said. Yes, but which way? was the natural response. If I’m flying to the island-city, my flight should take in something with a more exotic range of scenery, perhaps even a sniff of nature. Birds and stuff. So the painter and I decided on Portugal: and why not throw in Spain? My own travels had never taken me further than Catalonia, which so determinedly is, and is not, Spain. Off, then, for the long flight west with good books and red wine; en route I looked down on Cairo for the first time in my life. The Ptolemaic map of lights spread out as though forever.

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Relations between the public arena and the private are what the novel is all about. This loose, generous prose form was developed in early-modern Europe to enable a vigorous bourgeois imagination to ask the question: what is public, in fact, and what is private ...

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Whirling by Chris Wallace-Crabbe

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October 1998, no. 205

Chris Wallace-Crabbe’s ability to reveal the marvellous in the seemingly mundane layers of the quotidian is a striking aspect of this new book. There are compassionate, fluid meditations on many aspects of urban life, ageing, and a quirky cast of characters from the poet’s life and wide reading.

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‘Anecdotes’ meant originally ‘the unpublished’ – sometimes, no doubt, the unprintable. Nowadays we think of them as being tales which have something or other up their sleeves: a morsel of irony, a pinch of encouragement, a gesture of affectation. Anecdotes are yarns which have had a couple of drinks.

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The poet John Forbes died suddenly in January 1998. He was not glamorous, but his work was, for reasons that are not immediately apparent. Certainly, he was the most accomplished, along with the immensely learned Martin Johnston, of the young poets who swam into orbit in the 1970s. He was also the writer who most convincingly bridged the gap between a radical art and the relatively conservative, yet difficult, kinds of cultural theory which are expounded in the universities. Such newly collected poems as ‘post-colonial biscuit’, ‘Ode to Cultural Studies’ and ‘Queer Theory’ body forth, in their disembodied way, this concern to be a bridge-maker between academic talk and the melodious realms of poetry.

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Modern Australians live of course in a concourse or babble of discourses. We make our way through the bubble-and-squeak of chopped-up value systems. There is no tall hierarchy of speakings, no league ladder. Nor is there anything as redgum-solid as permanence; if anything, transience is taken as proof of the genuine.

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The Annotated Such is Life by Joseph Furby & The Life and Opinions of Tom Collins by Julian Croft

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July 1991, no. 132

At last, books about Such is Life and its endearingly attractive, quixotically sophisticated author, Joseph Furphy, are coming out. Three in the last few months is a welcome harvest, certainly a happier response than Furphy got during the prolonged Wilcannia showers of his life.

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