John Leonard Press

In ‘Painting’s Flatness’, Paul Magee ruefully observes the following: ‘If only surfaces were possible / here in the imagination / just to walk and to touch sincerely the ground.’ This, as the title of the poetry collection suggests, is the essence of Stone Postcard: a poet’s search for stability in the face of exquisite and inscrutable change.

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Brook Emery’s opening poem in Collusion is addressed to ‘Dear K’, an address reprised in the last, movingly lyrical poem in this his fourth collection. We might read the intervening poems as a correspondence with ‘K’, this other who halfway through the collection is referred to as ...

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Cumulus describes itself as a ‘Collected Poems’, and though it isn’t quite that – far too many good poems from the earlier volumes have been omitted – there is a strong sense of cumulation and self-evaluation about it: it is a lot more than a set of copied contents pages sent to a publisher. And it is satisfying that the result, thanks to the high design standards of John Leonard Press, is physically the most attractive of Gray’s books.

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Peter Steele once described his teaching and writing as ‘acts of celebration’. He is – and was – quite literally a celebrant: in his role as a Jesuit priest, and as a poet of praise. Those acts of celebration extend to his prose works as well, both his homilies and his literary essays, especially those that take up the matter of poetry. Peter Steele passed away, after a long illness, in June of this year, but not before his latest offering was presented at a book launch he attended the week before he died and a few days after he received a national honour. Unable to speak, he had his brother read a list of five major concerns that animated his poetry and which he looked for in others: ‘Imagination; learning from experience; fascination with experience in all of its many forms; the world imagined in a different way; and earth and spirit interlocked.’ This new book, of eighteen essays and six poems, bears out those concerns, establishing his voice among us in a kind of afterlife, not of fame, but of familiarity, someone we might turn to, that is, as an intimate or a familiar.

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Dan Disney’s début collection, and then when the, is a slim volume infused with irreverent outings in philosophy and place. Just as the opening poem places its speaker in a philosophy class, philosophers offer constant points of reference. Disney reformulates such well-worn dicta as Descartes’s cogito ergo sum with verve, as in the poem ‘Towards a unifying theory of non-coincidence’, in which he writes, ‘the dead / (who tick not) / murmured “we do not think; therefore we are not”’.

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John Leonard’s anthology of young Australian poets, showcasing the work of an exclusive septet, comes hot on the heels of Felicity Plunkett’s more accommodating Thirty Australian Poets (reviewed by Fiona Wright in the December 2011–January 2012 issue of ABR). Young Poets: An Australian Anthology ...

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Vincent Buckley edited by Chris Wallace-Crabbe & Journey Without Arrival by John McLaren

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July-August 2009, no. 313

Amnesia about writers of the past, even the not too distant past, is one of the besetting ills of our culture. How many readers of poetry under forty have more than a nodding acquaintance with the work of A.D. Hope, Francis Webb, Douglas Stewart or Vincent Buckley? All are fine poets, remembered now (if at all) through a handful of anthology pieces, partly because their published volumes usually disappear from print within a few years. Poets are particularly susceptible to the culture of forgetting, but the malaise extends to novelists and others who have made major contributions to our cultural, political and social life.

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Marcella Polain’s latest book of poems continues her lyrical exploration of personal experience. Her earlier collections centred on immigrant life, shadowed by a violent history, in the adopted context of the Western Australian wheat belt. In the new poems, which occupy more than one third of the current volume, the emotional terrain has thickened, and the range of experience has expanded to include midlife concerns of failing health, ageing parents and death. ‘So this is what life is,’ Polain writes, ‘nausea, vertigo, migraine, cramps.’ One poem describes the extra chores of helping her mother, and ends: ‘Last Sunday you couldn’t remember who I was or / what you wanted me to buy for you.’

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Vertigo edited by Jordie Albiston & Awake Despite the Hour by Paul Mitchell

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October 2007, no. 295

Reading Paul Mitchell’s second book of poems during a bout of insomnia seemed apposite not only because of its title but also because Mitchell’s poetry occupies a strange middle place, somewhere between dream and reality. Awake Despite the Hour illustrates Mitchell’s interest in occupying both the ‘real’ (politics, family and the quotidian) and the extramundane (imagination, the surreal and the metaphysical).

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A Bud by Claire Gaskin & Cube Root of Book by Paul Magee

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March 2007, no. 289

Paul Magee’s first book, Cube Root of Book, digs through the roots of life. He revisits past incidents, examining what draws him to poetry. Magee’s accurate translations from Virgil, Horace, Ovid and Catullus, interspersed throughout, heighten his subject matter but contrast with his own less proven work. Yet these translations draw attention to his fragmented, deracinated modern life, apparent in the various styles he employs, from the explanatory and prose-like to the chopped expostulations of love or lament. Some translations are playful – ‘Sleep embraced their weary limbs … and I looked up the word for patefactus’ (‘Aeneid II’) – while others superimpose order, as in ‘Mr Ruddock’s speechwriter (Philippic 1)’: ‘The asylum in the desert swallows the phrase, a throat / a drain with birds circling, a gate.’

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