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Elizabeth Campbell

Emily Ballou’s first book of poems opens with a quotation from Coleridge’s Definitions of Poetry: ‘Poetry is not the proper antithesis to prose but to science. Poetry is opposed to science.’ A book of poems on the life of Charles Darwin must be a refutation of this idea, though I had expected a more direct return to the comment which, two hundred years after Coleridge wrote it, has accrued greater meaning. In Coleridge’s time, the dazzling and potentially alienating specialisation of the sciences had not occurred, and C.P. Snow had never hailed the ‘two cultures’. Anti-intellectualism had not yet colluded with postmodern suspicion of reason to decry the malign, hegemonic nature of Western science. Coleridge, like many educated men of his time, was conversant with the latest advances in most branches of the sciences. He enjoyed a close friendship with Humphry Davy, the foremost scientist of the day, who also wrote poetry.

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Everyone seems to be writing about ‘light’ at the moment. It is currently an all-purpose metaphor, the intangible symbol for all intangibles: mental, physical and emotional. With Brook Emery, it is far more precise. The ‘Uncommon Light’ of Emery’s title poem comes from St Augustine, and ideas of ‘common’ and ‘uncommon’ light recur throughout the poems, but are re-defined, flipped, turned and re-examined throughout this thoughtful and sustained book.

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Letters to the Tremulous Hand by Elizabeth Campbell & Man Wolf Man by L.K. Holt

May 2008, no. 301

John Leonard Press produces beautiful books of poetry. Proof of the editor’s precise standards, L.K. Holt’s Man Wolf Man features a fine, bullet-sized insignia of a wolf man’s head after the title page. But as Leonard has shown in publishing three (out of four) first books by young Australian women poets, he is not bound to tradition. Holt’s book, with its combination of formal style and feminist obscenity, and Elizabeth Campbell’s Letters to the Tremulous Hand, which includes poems about medieval scribes and human trafficking, suggest that Leonard’s aesthetic is more radical than most. Could it be time for young Australian women poets to shine? Are these two poets among the bright young things of a Generation of ’08?

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