The flyer for the Brisbane launch of this new biography of Australia’s most popular living poet described Stephany Evans Steggall and Bruce Dawe as ‘joint authors’, and while the title page lists Evans Steggall alone as its author, there is a sense in which the poet is indeed co-author of this collaborative account of his life. The title comes from one of his best-known poems, and the chapters take their titles from the poems with which they begin. Evans Steggall has also reordered poems written over many decades into a chronological sequence that enables the poet himself to tell much of his life story. She has added to this her own complementary account of that life, in which she has been assisted by the poet who, instead of writing his autobiography, has chosen to collaborate with his biographer. Such a venture has its constraints, which are increased when the subject is involved in the writing, but it also offers opportunities that the objectifying passage of time removes. In this case, the collaboration has produced an intimately personal account of a notable life viewed sympathetically and through the poet’s own eyes.
Alison Chesterton works in the Canberra press gallery. She is single, promiscuous, jaded, cynical, disillusioned; she wonders about the health of her soul. The languor of another day in Canberra is interrupted by a phone call bringing the journalist’s Holy Grail, an inside tip: the first scent of a story that will break hearts and create reputations. It is also the animating act in the narrative permitting Sonya Voumard to shift the story from Canberra to Alice Springs, and then to Melbourne, as Chesterton researches the rumour.
Australian publishers rarely risk bringing out collections of short fiction from writers who haven’t already made their names with novels. Neither of these writers is unknown, of course: Adriana Ellis has long been admired for the comic insights and the spare power of her fiction, her previous collection Cleared Moments Clear Spaces having appeared with FACP in 1990; while Anthony Lynch enjoys an increasingly strong reputation as a poet, fiction writer, literary editor and publisher. The shame is that these collections, piquant in their stylish brevity, reverberative far beyond their modest slimness, have not attracted the notice they deserve.
It is a treat to see ten of Laurie Clancy’s short stories collected in this volume, his third. Given their quality, it is not surprising that seven of them have already been published in magazines and anthologies. But to read them together is to see their interdependence, their thematic patterns. All deal with male experience, beginning with that of the fourteen-year-old Leo, on the brink of sexual knowledge; and moving on to stories of middle-aged men contemplating the emptiness of their lives. The collection concludes with two stories about death, one from cancer, one from AIDS.