Dennis Haskell

Hard Horizons by Geoff Page & The Left Hand Mirror by Ron Pretty

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June-July 2018, no. 402

I have no idea if Pitt Street Poetry is located in Pitt Street, in the centre of Sydney’s CBD, but it has certainly made itself central to poetry publishing in Australia. Its list includes such fine poets as Eileen Chong, John Foulcher, Jean Kent, and Anthony Lawrence; that reputation will be added to by these books from Geoff Page ...

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The last two lines of Tony Page's Dawn the Proof (Hybrid Publishers, $25 pb, 87 pp, 9781925272239) ask 'how to seize / the grains of now'. One of Page's (implicit) ...

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Reading these three books in April, it was impossible not to see in them flashes of what Ross McMullin has described in war artist Will Dyson's drawings from World War I ...

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Now and again it is good to remind ourselves that literary history (and I think the history of the other arts) is strewn with the names of those who had great stature in their own time and are now largely forgotten, and with the names of others for whom the reverse is true. William Blake, short of money, went to work for the much more admired poet William Hayley. These days, the name ‘William Hayley’ will only conjure up ‘Rock Around the Clock’. Even Samuel Johnson, perhaps the greatest of all literary critics, thought Abraham Cowley ‘undoubtedly the best’ of the Metaphysical poets, and it took three hundred years for John Donne’s reputation to be firmly established.

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Twenty pages from the end of his New Selected Poems, Geoff Page imagines being ‘an heir of Whitman’, and muses that ‘I think I could turn awhile and write like the Americans, / they are so at ease in their syllables, irregular as eyelids, / various as the sea’. These lines are so cleverly Whitmanesque that the idea seems momentarily plausible. Only an astute reader will stop to think that the sea is hardly various at all – and how irregular are eyelids? Page’s poem, we might realise by this stage of the book, is presenting wry, understated humour, and this is one way in which he seems a deeply Australian poet, utterly unlike the Americans.

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The last page of Ian Templeman’s Selected Poems asks us to imagine that ‘every touch / expressing affection, left a handprint / on the heart’ that scientists could later ‘analyse, / to trace a profile of love’. Templeman envisages retired scholars who would prefer to find these traces ‘above a life of research texts’. The poem is titled ‘Night Journey’ and the scholars are ‘Approaching the dark’. It establishes the scale of values by which Templeman assesses ‘life’s puzzle’, and he is surely right: intimacy, personal relationships, the links between the generations are in the end what really matter to us, above learning, knowledge, adventure, professional achievements, and ‘research texts’. The gentleness of this poem is characteristic, and it possesses added poignancy in this Selected because of circumstance. Templeman himself is seriously ill, and the selection has been made by fellow poets Paul Hetherington and Penelope Layland. The book, explicitly ‘a gift to the author’, includes a generous introduction and is superbly produced. It is as beautiful-looking a poetry book as I have ever seen, appropriate for a poet who has been deeply involved with the visual arts.

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Pre-teen and early teen years had me and many others enjoying Ross Campbell’s witty column in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper about the goings-on in ‘Oxalis Cottage’, a fictionalised version of his Sydney home. Robert Drewe’s often hilarious columns for The Age and The Weekend West are a kind of modern equivalent, and a selection of them is brought together to form The Local Wildlife.

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Randolph Stow, who died in 2010 aged seventy-four, must now be considered part of the Australian canon, whether that concept is conceived broadly or as a smaller cluster of Leavisian peaks. This status derives from his eight novels, which include the Miles Franklin Award-winner To the Islands (1958), the celebrated children’s book Midnite: The Story of a Wild Colonial Boy (1967), the much studied The Merry-go-round in theSea (1965), and the book that many (including me) think his masterpiece, Visitants (1979).

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First books often suffer most in a Selected Poems as the poet who finally emerges from the possibilities explored in the poems of the first book retrospectively weeds out those poems that are not in what becomes the dominant mode. This certainly happens in the case of Dennis Haskell’s Acts of Defiance ...

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Westerly edited by Delys Bird and Dennis Haskell & HEAT edited by Ivor Indyk

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February 2007, no. 288

Who reads literary magazines, and why do they? Writers looking for what is being published, academics keeping up with who is being published, the elusive ‘general reader’ looking for a good read? The current volumes of HEAT and Westerly offer multiple reasons and rewards for picking them up, reasons which extend well beyond these superficial factors. Reasons which may send you to the postbox with a subscription form.

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