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David McCooey

A Foul Wind by Justin Clemens & The Book of Falling by David McCooey

by
April 2023, no. 452

In a world both foul and fallen, where delusion, death, and unassailable Dummheit seem to wait on every corner, what can poetry do that warrants our rapt attention more than every other kind of distraction? Justin Clemens voiced the common lament when he wrote, ‘No-one reads poetry anymore, there being not enough time and more exciting entertainments out there.’ The issue, he said, is ‘a materialist problem that has always proven fundamental for poets: how to compose something that, by its own mere affective powers alone, will continue to be read or recited’ (‘Being Caught dead’, Overland, 202, 2011). That clinches the dilemma rather well. And yet, entertainment or not – and effective or not in their affective power – poetry collections seem to endure as a place, of Lilliputian dimensions, to encounter other worlds and world views.

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Sarah Holland-Batt’s Fishing for Lightning is a book about Australian poetry. As such, it is a rare, and welcome, bird in the literary ecology of our country. It is welcome because poetry, like any other art form, requires a supportive culture that educates and promulgates. Not that Holland-Batt, herself one of our leading poets, is ‘merely’ didactic, or a shill for the muses. Holland-Batt, who is also an academic, writes with great authority and insight, and she is a fine stylist, penning essays that are packed with humour and playfulness. These essays cater for all kinds of audiences, from newcomers to poetry experts, which is no small feat.

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Peter Boyle’s Enfolded in the Wings of a Great Darkness (Vagabond Press, $25 pb, 82 pp) is a book-length elegiac poem dedicated to his partner, the anthropologist Deborah Bird Rose (1946–2018). Unlike other works lamenting the illness and loss of a spouse, Boyle’s collection largely avoids representing the day-to-day demands of suffering from (or caring for someone suffering from) an incurable disease. Instead, Boyle’s poetry sequence offers a more metaphysical approach to the uncertainty and grief that he and his partner faced.

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In 1973, aged six, I heard the song ‘Rock On’ by David Essex. I was obsessed by its sound. While I couldn’t have put it into words, I half understood that the song was made sonically exciting not just through its inventive arrangement (a song about rock and roll with no guitars!) but also its production techniques, especially the use of reverb and delay to ‘stage’ the vocal and instrumental performances.

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In her latest collection of poems, Empirical, Lisa Gorton demonstrates – definitively and elegantly – how large, apparently simple creative decisions (employing catalogues or lists; quoting from the archive; engaging in ekphrasis or description) can produce compelling and complex poetic forms.

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Rarely does one come across a book that is both intensely ‘literary’ – stylised, sophisticated, deeply engaged with its antecedents – and achingly moving, so viscerally raw that it takes one’s breath away. A Passing Bell: Ghazals for Tina – an elegy-sequence for Tina Kane, to whom Paul Kane was married for thirty-six years – is such a work ...

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To celebrate the best books of 2018, Australian Book Review invited nearly forty contributors to nominate their favourite titles. Contributors include Michelle de Kretser

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Sarah Day’s début collection, A Hunger to Be Less Serious (1987), married lightness of touch with depth of insight. In Towards Light & Other Poems (Puncher & Wattmann, $25 pb, 108 pp, 9781925780024), Day continues this project in poems concerned with light, a thing presented as both ...

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In an age when the news is relentlessly bad, it is tempting to think that we can turn to poetry as either a flight from the pathological politics of our time, or a higher commentary on it. As the poets in this year’s Victorian States of Poetry Anthology show, poetry’s relationship with the news of the day is more complex than that.

So, who reads poetry? American military cadets, that’s who. And medical specialists. Also, songwriters, journalists, and philosophers. And don’t forget (ex-) poets, priests, and politicians (to quote Sting). But let’s get back to those military cadets. What does poetry do for them? Who Reads Poetry gives us a number of ...

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