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John Leonard Press

There are times when I read a book that reinvigorates important questions for me – such as how language carries and creates meaning, and what, after all, is the function and force of poetry. Usually, such a book is a creative work and I like to imagine that the first readers of volumes by George Herbert or John Donne responded with such questions – to poetry that consistently registered a persuasive complexity and which, while emotionally restrained, carried a pithy emotional charge.

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Poems 1980–2008 selects from Jan Owen’s first five collections and adds eighty pages of new poems. This is an accomplished, playful, intelligent collection which confirms Owen’s status in the front ranks of Australian poets (why is there so little criticism or commentary on her work?). It is full of angels, goddesses, older men, iconic art, imagined sex, strange fruit, flowers, trees, birds, travels through Europe and Asia – encyclopedic ideas and sinuous, crafted language.

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Vertigo edited by Jordie Albiston & Awake Despite the Hour by Paul Mitchell

October 2007, no. 295

Reading Paul Mitchell’s second book of poems during a bout of insomnia seemed apposite not only because of its title but also because Mitchell’s poetry occupies a strange middle place, somewhere between dream and reality. Awake Despite the Hour illustrates Mitchell’s interest in occupying both the ‘real’ (politics, family and the quotidian) and the extramundane (imagination, the surreal and the metaphysical).

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A Bud by Claire Gaskin & Cube Root of Book by Paul Magee

March 2007, no. 289

Paul Magee’s first book, Cube Root of Book, digs through the roots of life. He revisits past incidents, examining what draws him to poetry. Magee’s accurate translations from Virgil, Horace, Ovid and Catullus, interspersed throughout, heighten his subject matter but contrast with his own less proven work. Yet these translations draw attention to his fragmented, deracinated modern life, apparent in the various styles he employs, from the explanatory and prose-like to the chopped expostulations of love or lament. Some translations are playful – ‘Sleep embraced their weary limbs … and I looked up the word for patefactus’ (‘Aeneid II’) – while others superimpose order, as in ‘Mr Ruddock’s speechwriter (Philippic 1)’: ‘The asylum in the desert swallows the phrase, a throat / a drain with birds circling, a gate.’

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