Australian Poetry

Flight Animals by Bronwyn Lea & Sensual Horizon by Martin Langford

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December 2001–January 2002, no. 237

Seamless with his two previous collections, Behind the Moon is Jacob Rosenberg’s potted autobiography of a survivor of Lodz and Auschwitz, delivered from that hell, of which he writes with the kindness of an angel, into the heaven that Melbourne must then logically be. To be the poet of reality and not self-delusion is his reality, is his commission. The trouble he contends with is that his present is posthumous, for the contemporary world could never be charged with such reality. Heaven doesn’t exist.

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What do we do with literary magazines? How do we read these more or less accidental collections of literary fragments? How can we say that they matter? It would be nice if we could hold on to the heroic model of the modernist little magazine always ‘making it new’, forging a space for the advance guard, with what Nettie Palmer once called a ‘formidable absence of any business aims’. But, in the age of state subsidy and university support, and with large publishing houses intervening in the magazine market place, this would be sheer nostalgia – though in a form that might still motivate new magazine projects.

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The Observatory: Selected poems by Dimitris Tsaloumas, translated by Philip Grundy

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October 1983, no. 55

Migrant writing in this country isn’t just burgeoning, it has begun to flourish. The writing itself and the study of it begin to look like a ‘growth industry’. What I know of it is varied both in kind and quality, but I’ve no doubt at all that the poetry of Dimitris Tsaloumas is an important achievement by any standard.

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It is usually true to say that poetry is difficult and criticism easy. In the present case, I am not sure that this is quite so true. What can any critic sensibly say about the present batch of books which range from Bruce Dawe ‘s Collected Poems 1954–1978, Sometimes Gladness, to reprints of minor colonial verse and includes the gentle nature mysticism of John Anderson’s The Blue Gum Smokes a long Cigar, reverently illustrated by Ned Johnson and produced by Rigmarole of the Hours, and the ambitious regionalism of the two books of Hunter Valley Poets, IV and V, edited by Norman Talbot?

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Where We Are by Alison Flett & ecliptical by Hazel Smith

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August 2022, no. 445

Hazel Smith’s ecliptical features an image of a Sieglinde Karl-Spence work of art, ‘Becoming’, a pair of ‘winged feet woven with allocasuarina needles’. It is a striking image, evocative of Mercury, with one foot resting on the other, as if the right foot’s instep is itchy. The idea of ‘itchy feet’ is something that ties ecliptical to Alison Flett’s Where We Are. Flett and Smith are both migrants to Australia; their poetry is sensitive to its site of writing, and to international and interpersonal connections.

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languish by Marion May Campbell & And to Ecstasy by Marjon Mossammaparast

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August 2022, no. 445

The title of Marion May Campbell’s third poetry collection, languish, conjures ideas of laziness, daydream, failure to make progress, ennui, lack of enthusiasm, anhedonia. Campbell’s poetry is concerned with the excitement of language, but also its debasement. Several reviewers have commented on the work’s intertextuality (Campbell often employs compositional strategies such as parody, allusion, calque). Always the audience or reader is integral to shaping the text. For Campbell, importantly, the unsaid or unquestioned are as important as collaged lyric or contemporary language trace, as seen in these lines from the first poem in the collection, ‘speechless’:

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There’s an old Irish saying: ‘If you want praise, die. If you want blame, marry.’ I could add from personal experience, ‘If you really want blame, edit a poetry anthology.’ While poetry is relatively popular, it often seems that more people write it than read it. As a result, poets can be desperate for affirmation and recognition, managing their careers more jealously than investment bankers. What too often gets lost in all the log-rolling and back-scratching is the poetry. We turn to anthologies for help, hoping to find in small, palatable doses good poets we can choose to read in depth. We find anthologies representing nations or geographical regions, literary periods, ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations, forms, categories like postmodernism, post-colonialism, eco-poetry, and themes like love or madness.

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Pattern and Voice edited by John and Dorothy Colmer

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July 1983, no. 52

John and Dorothy Colmer have produced Pattern and Voice (Macmillan, $10.95 pb, 234 pp), an anthology of verse which will be of interest to all teachers and students of poetry. It has a blend of classic and contemporary poetry and includes many Australian poets.

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In an increasingly secular age, The Lines of the Hand is an unusual book. Almost half of the poems it contains are direct communications with an evident and accessible God, while others are celebrations of Creation.

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Umberto Eco once described the text as a ‘lazy machine asking the reader to do some of its work’; to contribute, in other words, to the production of meaning. Poetry has a particular reputation for being demanding, but Tracy Ryan’s tenth poetry collection, Rose Interior, isn’t challenging in the way that Eco envisages. It is less about engaging readers in the masculinist energy of the ‘machine’ and ‘work’ than about inviting them into a feminine world of domestic spaces and quotidian phenomena ...

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