Chris Wallace Crabbe

The Annotated Such is Life by Joseph Furby & The Life and Opinions of Tom Collins by Julian Croft

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July 1991, no. 132

At last, books about Such is Life and its endearingly attractive, quixotically sophisticated author, Joseph Furphy, are coming out. Three in the last few months is a welcome harvest, certainly a happier response than Furphy got during the prolonged Wilcannia showers of his life.

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Writing is what I love doing. There is almost nothing like it. Even playing two or three close sets of tennis will not quite compete with having a good poetic theme discover you, and then managing to nut it out, to make it chime like a bell. No wonder the French critics are so fond of talking about the jouissance of a text. When a poetic shape-and-theme I’ve been struggling with comes good, it comes like an express train. And, whether painful or pleasing, writing has become an absolute necessity, so that I grow fretful, grumpy, zany, if I haven’t written anything decent for several days.

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Memoirs of Many in One by Alex Xenophon Demirjian Gray (edited by Patrick White)

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July 1986, no. 82

Patrick White is a downy old bird. He has always shown remarkable ability to keep up with the game, even to keep ahead of it. Whether the game is currently being called Modernism, or Postmodernism, or some other ismatic title, he can handle it as a writer and still be himself. From The Aunt’s Story to The Twyborn Affair, he has displayed this ability to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds, to go in with the ferrets and also come out with the rabbits. In other words, of all Australian writers he most convincingly builds a bridge between what critics ask for and what readers want.

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The Amorous Cannibal by Chris Wallace-Crabbe

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May 1986, no. 80

As artists get older, they are supposed to mature, and commentators begin to look for the demarcations of their three periods, a nice bequest from Beethoven. One vitiating side effect of this is to misplace freshness in their art. Judging the vital middle period works, and bowing before the sublimity of the late, the critic bestows a nostalgic glance over his shoulder to the early output – ah, what freshness, what morning glory there! It may be true of Beethoven, but the experience of most of us lesser creatures is more often the opposite. We start a bit grey and elderly: only later, after much experience, do we throw off ponderousness, embrace wit and light-spiritedness and appear verdant for the public gaze. I hope Chris Wallace-Crabbe will not object to my including him in this (to me) honourable company: those who write, after thirty years on the job, with twice the élan they had at the beginning.

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Boy with A Telescope by Jan Owen & The Twofold Place by Alan Gould

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February–March 1986, no. 78

The ways of poetry are many but sometimes, as it turns out, they are simply oppositional. These two new volumes of poetry from Angus & Robertson could easily have been produced as the occasion for some compare-and-contrast parlour game. The first, and continuing, thing to be said about them is that Gould is strong on artistic form whereas Owen is strong on life. The harder question to ask about any writer is whether it is better to be good at forms or to be full of life. Both, you will say, of course; but then we can’t have everything.

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The three books under review here promote no generalisation about the condition of poetry, the health of the beast, unless they call to mind the difference between poems which are interesting from line to line and those which somehow resonate as wholes. R.H. Morrison, the eldest of the three poets, is the one who most often produces whole poems, at least to my ear.

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