Tribute

A tribute to Stephen Sondheim

by
29 November 2021

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to witness the extinguishing of a genius who not only defined an era or a movement but also ruptured an art form. Virtually nothing of Shakespeare’s death is recorded, so we are left to invent the dying of that light. Mozart’s funeral was infamously desultory, and Tolstoy’s swamped by paparazzi as much as by the peasantry. Stephen Sondheim, the single greatest composer and lyricist the musical theatre has ever known, died at his home in Connecticut on 26 November, and we who loved him feel the loss like a thunderbolt from the gods. Not because we’re shocked – he was ninety-one after all – but simply because we shall not see his like again.

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I heard the Egypt story countless times, but then Dorothy Porter believed that if a story was worth telling, it warranted multiple retellings. In the late 1980s, before Dot and I met, she visited Egypt to gather material for her verse novel Akhenaten (1992). In Cairo, she joined a tour group taking in the major historical sights ...

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Years ago, when I was editing a magazine, John Clarke would occasionally ring, sometimes to discuss what might have been called business, but, more often, just out of the blue ...

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Travelling Without Gods edited by Cassandra Atherton & My Feet Are Hungry by Chris Wallace-Crabbe

by
October 2014, no. 365

The title of Cassandra Atherton’s anthology, Travelling Without Gods, alludes to the particular brand of agnosticism that has run through Chris Wallace-Crabbe’s work over many decades. Journeying sans deity is evidenced strongly in the poet’s latest collection, a book which, like Atherton’s, has been published to coincide with Wallace-Crabbe’s eightieth birthday.

For a non-believer, Wallace-Crabbe’s My Feet Are Hungry makes frequent reference to Christian ideology. This is in marked contrast to a number of Australian poets – Judith Beveridge, Barry Hill, Robert Gray among them – whose work in recent years testifies to the influence of Buddhism. Wallace-Crabbe’s Christian saviour is located firmly in the historical rather than the sacred. Only mildly irreverent, the poet shows respect for a figure who sides with the disadvantaged in an era of raging commercial interest and power-mad politicians: ‘Did Roman nails deserve his blood? / Even for someone who venerates money / Here is a story of absolute good’ (‘And the Cross’).

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When Gore Vidal died a few weeks ago, his publisher issued a statement calling him the last survivor of a postwar crop of American literary giants. ‘It is hard to think of another … who cut as dashing and visible a figure in various public realms,’ said Vidal’s Doubleday editor, Gerald Howard. Less than a week later the obituary columns were taken over by just such another figure – except that Robert Hughes was an Australian. Malcolm Turnbull made a pronouncement on the floor of the Australian parliament: ‘This titan of arts and letters will never leave us.’

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The coffin sat on a chrome trolley at the front of the pews. In the end we only need a box six feet by two, and how small it looks ... the imagination falters.

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To write about a biographer is to be aware of a presence, psychologically if not spectrally, sitting on your shoulder. This presence is not an angel, more like an imp, the minor demon that arouses bad deeds, or thoughts. In writing about a biographer we can feel not angelic inspiration, but the imp of doubt, saying: This is not good enough, I could do better.

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In an essay on the poetry of George Crabbe, Peter Porter wrote, ‘It is a great pleasure to me, a man for the littoral any day, to read Crabbe’s description of the East Anglian coast.’ Happily, there is by now a substantial and various array of writings about Porter’s work, and I would like simply to add that his being, metaphorically, ‘a man for the littor ...

Geoff Dutton was a man-of-letters who for many years made (with Max Harris) Adelaide seem one of the lively centres of Australian literary culture. One thinks of him in association with the magazines Angry Penguins, Australian Letters, and the original Australian Book Review, not to mention the inauguration of an Australian publication list for Penguin Books, and then, when that soured, the setting up of Sun Books, one of the most innovative of Australian publishing ventures at that time – which was in the difficult slough period of the 1950s and 1960s and into the 1970s.

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Aboriginal poet and activist, Kevin Gilbert, died in Canberra on 1 April 1993 after a long battle with a respiratory disease. He was sixty years old.

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