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Chris Wallace Crabbe

Chris Wallace-Crabbe has always had a good ear for a title, but Telling a Hawk from a Handsaw is surely his best. Half a century older than Shakespeare’s ghost-ridden poet–hero, he rings the changes on Hamlet’s high-fantastical play with language, by turns delighting and disconcerting an audience which might sometimes struggle to keep up with his leaps and ellipses. Ghosts and shadows abound in this distillation of his finest work from the last five years or so, but the intimations of mortality don’t mean that this book inhabits a Yeatsian ‘country for old men’. There are some curtains of Celtic darkness, but the soul of this poet–singer rejects tattered coats and sticks, swaggering, as the introductory poem has it, ‘On the Side of Life, / suntanned here in the lost antipodes / of childhood’s yellow beach and glaucous water’.

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Who is, or rather who was, André Gide? I ask this because a distinguished editor warned me, on hearing that I was about to review Robert Dessaix’s enticing new book, that nowadays nobody would remember who Gide was. Ah, the years, the years! It was another story in the time of my youth ...

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The Failure of Poetry, The Promise of Language by Laura (Riding) Jackson, edited by John Nolan

June 2008, no. 302

Laura Riding, sometime poet and citrus-grower has risen from the grave to deliver this series of attacks on poetry and its untruthfulness. She comes back to us now in a posthumous gathering of essays and shorter notes, The Failure of Poetry: The Promise of Language. It will certainly get people’s backs up.

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When I am rotting patiently where
my eldest, Ben, now lies
And the bright prunus petals are dropping away
faster than flies, ... (read more)

The English critic Terry Eagleton is nothing if not a dasher. Once suspected by many as the kind of postmodern theorist who undermined the category of ‘literature’, he has increasingly hiked into its territory. In The Illusions of Postmodernism (1996), he turned against the kinds of scepticism and virtuality which he saw as demeaning all literary or cultural study. The book certainly made some of his former allies quite cross, not least because it was penned with such rhetorical high spirits. His Marxist foundations, sturdily nourished in a Salford boyhood, remained, however, and were built upon. Yet they are sometimes twinned with residues of Catholic belief, as his recent attack on the atheism of Richard Dawkins has shown, full as it is of residual theology. He can certainly be an odd kettle of fish. In How to Read a Poem, Eagleton takes a broad brush. He remains at home with the traditional texts, the kinds of poems we have long deemed important.

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Memory is actually anxious to be heard.

                                                       A.F. Davies

What a year, and how lucky we are that our country can only play a timid, cringing, subservient role in Iraq – which is not at all to disparage the soldiers we send there. It must be a bastard of a job for those young men, at the accursed interface.

February 6: We fly to Hobart for our Coles Bay holiday, pick up a car and gradually find Sarah and Gordon’s evasive house on its steep hill. The following morning he starts me off with a long stiff walk over the mountain slopes: easier at his age. But I could eat a horse afterwards, were that required.

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January 5: Planning for the Australian Poetry Centre (APC), thanks to the largesse of CAL; we’ll be in ‘Glenfern’, the handsome Boyd/a’Beckett house in St Kilda. Otherwise I’m feeling fit as a whippet, unlike Peter Costello.

January 17: Drove to windy Ballarat for Jan Senbergs’s drawings, David Hansen keeping us wittily diverted – the drawings, after 1992, suddenly very good, as Jan’s crowded Middle Park studio had given him cramped interiors, away from surreal cities. Out in the street, I saw someone who resembled Paul Kane, and uttered a tentative ‘Paul?’ – there they were, Paul and Tina, far from New York – so they persuaded us to drive north, coming to side roads that, like Donne’s pursuit of truth, ‘about must and about must go’. It perched on the bald head of an old volcano, in the full tug of wind: ‘The council engineer said we had to chain it to the hill.’

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Fancy an editor in this post-whatnot era using the word ‘great’ to describe the poems he publishes. Lord save us! It is almost as though recent decades hadn’t been, and we still wore the mild woolly clothing of the postwar years. But here is the Canberra poet and longtime schoolteacher Geoff Page offering us a high road through poetry in English: a series of touchstones, as our serious uncle Matthew Arnold might have said.

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Approaching a new book by Sydney’s Peter Minter, we are afforded the opportunity to see where a maturing poet is headed. A few years ago, he was very much identified with cutting-edge poetics. More interested in the epistemology of language than most of our poets, he could be seen as an experimental ally of, say, Michael Farrell and the American, Andrew Zawacki. Yet there was sometimes a whiff of the academy about his projects, a certain cerebral coldness. The poems kept holding us at a slippery arms’ length. Cunningly though, he opens the main flow of his new book with Ed Dorn’s concise observation that ‘All academics are hopeless’.

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You set down orange, with a dab of blue
and this grows into art
of a non-offender’s kind,
innocent as a fart in the footy crowd.
Meanwhile, the killing stumbles on

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