Along with regular features, this bumper edition of the Poets’ Union journal, Five Bells, includes the proceedings of festival discussions in Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth: sixteen strongly argued, well-crafted papers by some of Australia’s best poets, variously considering the state of Australian poetry now. For all the individual interest of these papers, this collection’s strength lies in the way they set up parallels and contradictions, working together like a long, amiable argument.
Several quote Peter Rose’s introduction to The Best Australian Poems 2007: ‘Sales of individual poetry collections in Australia are worryingly low, regardless of how many prizes or good reviews they garner.’ There is no argument here; though, in an elegant paper on recent trends in poetry publishing, Bronwyn Lea points out that Australian poets sell better, adjusted for population, than poets in other Western nations. Rightly, Lea doesn’t find this reassuring. As the Spanish proverb goes, the misery of others is the consolation of fools. Low sales means Australian poets depend, precariously, on the commitment of independent publishers, who publish remarkable books without hope of return.