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Australian Poetry

parallel equators by Nathan Shepherdson & camping underground by Greg McLaren

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January-February 2024, no. 461

'Poems reawaken in us,’ writes James Longenbach, ‘the pleasure of the unintelligibility of the world.’ They do so via ‘mechanisms of self-resistance’: disjunctive strategies that work, for Longenbach, to ‘resist our intelligence almost successfully’. What ‘almost’ means here is, of course, a matter of taste – and style. Nonetheless, this Romantic mandate – that poems achieve clarity by integrating opacity – invites a question fundamental to poetics: how much resistance is too much, or not enough?

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Icaros by Tamryn Bennett & Moon Wrasse by Willo Drummond

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November 2023, no. 459

Tamryn Bennett’s Icaros and Willo Drummond’s Moon Wrasse both use the natural as their central motif. Nature has of course always been a font of inspiration for poets. These two poets draw from that font in vastly different ways. Bennett’s title refers to a form of South American song that is chanted during rituals of cleansing and healing that involve plants. Drummond’s refers to a hermaphroditic fish, the moon wrasse, which acts as a symbol of transformation.

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Jill Jones has given many interviews about her poetry where, inevitably, an interviewer asks her, ‘What is Australian poetry?’ In one of my favourite quips, Jones says, ‘Is it only Australians who worry about what is “Australian” poetry?’ Related issues are addressed in her pithy foreword to her second volume of new and selected poems, Acrobat Music. She states, ‘I realise, and others have said, my work doesn’t fit easily into a specified school, category or type of Australian poetry.’ This provides a fortifying manifesto to her oeuvre, reflecting Jones’s interest in ‘the possibilities of the poem … form, sound, connotation, address’. 

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In her short life, Lesbia Harford (1891–1927) created a body of poems which have become increasingly important to scholars and poets in understanding both the impact of poetic modernism in Australia and shifting concepts of gender, class, and the tensions between a personal and a collective politics. While Oliver Dennis’s 2014 Collected Poems of Lesbia Harford presents Harford’s full oeuvre, the new Text Classics edition, selected and introduced by Gerald Murnane, brings a sharp and accessible focus on this seminal Australian poet, highlighting her key themes and demonstrating a literary style that straddled worlds: from the formal structures and decorous themes of late nineteenth-century poetry to the challenges to form, voice, and subject matter that characterised the emerging revolutions of literary modernism.

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Alcatraz edited by Cassandra Atherton and Paul Hetherington

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September 2023, no. 457

Alcatraz is an international anthology of prose poems which builds on the success of previous collaborations between the artist Phil Day and poets Cassandra Atherton and Paul Hetherington. Contributors include many outstanding poets from the United States (twenty-eight), the United Kingdom (ten), and Australia (thirteen), with smaller numbers of poets from India, New Zealand, Germany, Singapore, Vietnam and Hong Kong. The title with its alphabetical alpha and omega, was offered to the poets as an inspiration. I was halfway through the book before I realised the book itself embodies a multitude of jail breaks, vaulting over a range of conventions. These include its front and back cover – entirely taken up by a numinous painted image, the title on its spine the only printed word – and even the luxurious feel of its paper.

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Shore Lines by Andrew Taylor

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August 2023, no. 456

Andrew Taylor has been an important figure in the Australian poetic landscape since his first book, The Cool Change, appeared in 1971. Identified with no particular group or aesthetic tendency, he has worked as poet and academic in Melbourne, Adelaide, and Perth, and is now retired from teaching and based in Sydney.

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I Have Decided to Remain Vertical by Gaylene Carbis & The Drama Student by Autumn Royal

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July 2023, no. 455

There are striking parallels between I Have Decided to Remain Vertical by Gayelene Carbis and The Drama Student by Autumn Royal. Both are new collections from experienced Melbourne poets; both think through women’s places in social and material contexts; both display an intense interest in material things and material places; both engage with works of art beyond their own pages.

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Spore or Seed by Caitlin Maling & Increments of the Everyday by Rose Lucas

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July 2023, no. 455

Sharon Olds, author of twelve poetry collections including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Stag’s Leap, has said that when she wrote about motherhood forty years ago, she was advised by editors (‘very snooty, very put-me-down’) to try Ladies Home Journal. For Olds, now celebrated as a bold poet of the body, there is some Schadenfreude in the anecdote, like Bob Dylan’s in ‘Talkin’ New York’ as he recounts his arrival in New York, ‘blowin’ my lungs out for a dollar a day’, only to be told ‘You sound like a hillbilly / We want folksingers here.’ 

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Collected Poems by John Kinsella & Collected Poems by John Kinsella

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June 2023, no. 454

A quarter of a century has passed since Ivor Indyk contributed a scathing review of John Kinsella’s first collected poems to the pages of ABR (July 1997), and the contending responses to that opinion have typified the reception of his poetry among the vituperative local poetry community ever since. This extravagant representation of his work – two volumes of close to a thousand pages each, with a third volume pending – might seem almost deliberately designed to expose the author to similar criticism. Rather than a conventionally shaped collected edition, this is more like a throwing open of filing cabinets, and the nearly 1,700 pages presented so far are certainly not all masterpieces.

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101 Poems by Ron Pretty

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May 2023, no. 453

Ron Pretty has published eight collections of poetry and five chapbooks over his long career. His latest and perhaps last book, 101 Poems, from Pitt Street Poetry’s Collected Works series, includes pieces from his previous collections, as well as some new work. We start with The Habitat of Balance (1988) and go all the way through to his most recent collection, The Left Hand Mirror (2017), before encountering a selection of new poems.  

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